`Could China Rival Spain as World Olive Oil Capital? - Olive Oil Times

Could China Rival Spain as World Olive Oil Capital?

Jan. 14, 2013
Julie Butler

Recent News

An olive farm in Kumming China (Photo: Denise Lai)

Cheap labor costs and access to water plus ambi­tious expan­sion plans could see China threaten Spain’s sta­tus as the world’s lead­ing olive oil pro­ducer within a decade, says a major Spanish news­pa­per.

Under the head­line China launches into pro­duc­ing its own olive oil”, El Mundo reported that in just a few years the Asian giant could have about 59 mil­lion olive trees in full pro­duc­tion — up 50 per­cent on its cur­rent 39 mil­lion spread over 136,000 hectares — match­ing the plan­ta­tion area of Jaén, the biggest olive oil pro­ducer region glob­ally.

China’s inter­est in pro­duc­ing olive oil is mate­ri­al­iz­ing now in such major plan­ta­tions that in the not too dis­tant future its emer­gence in inter­na­tional mar­kets could be a com­mer­cial threat to Spain’s lead­er­ship,” the paper said.

It’s esti­mated that in 10 – 12 years China could boast the world dom­i­nance in the olive oil mar­ket that Spain cur­rently holds.”


China’s main com­pet­i­tive edge is cheap labor — equiv­a­lent to about €20 ($27) per per­son per month. It also has the key advan­tage of abun­dant water for its moun­tain-side plan­ta­tions — such as in the provinces of Gansu, Sichuan and Shaanxi — thanks to ice thaw in spring.

For some years, Chinese agri­cul­tur­al­ists and busi­ness peo­ple have vis­ited Spain to learn how it make its icon prod­ucts, such as olive oil.

China’s skill in reverse engi­neer­ing has extended to another Spanish flag­ship — cured ham. A thwarted attempt by two Chinese com­pa­nies to reg­is­ter the famous Jabugo name in China is said to have sent a shiver down Spain’s spine.

Olive oil and olive pomace oil imports into China grew 38 per­cent in 2011/12, accord­ing to the International Olive Council. Spain has been the main sup­plier but is now in the throes of a dis­mal har­vest — look­ing to be well under half of last season’s record of 1.6 mil­lion tons.

Meanwhile, the lat­ter could be Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey’s gain — Spanish and Italian bot­tlers are said to expect to ramp up their imports from these coun­tries to cover Spain’s short­fall.

Ex-mill prices are still ris­ing in Spain. The aver­age weighted price for the week to January 12 was €2.86/t ($3.81/t), accord­ing to POOLred.

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