Copa Cogeca general secretary, Pekka Pesonen (Photo: Copa-Cogeca)

European farmer and coop­er­a­tive orga­ni­za­tion Copa Cogeca has crit­i­cized European Commission plans to sig­nif­i­cantly increase duty-free import quo­tas for Tunisian olive oil.

Last month the European Commission announced plans to help the Tunisian econ­omy recover fol­low­ing ter­ror attacks in June when tourists were gunned down on a beach in Sousse by an ISIS sup­porter.

The country’s tourist indus­try has suf­fered as vis­i­tor num­bers have fallen off, impact­ing on the econ­omy as a whole.

This pro­posal would threaten growth and jobs in these regions where often no other source of employ­ment exists.- Copa Cogeca gen­eral sec­re­tary, Pekka Pesonen

“Tunisia can count on the EU’s sup­port in such a dif­fi­cult time,” said Federica Mogherini, EU High Rep at the time of the announce­ment.

Since then, some olive oil orga­ni­za­tions in coun­tries like Spain and Italy have spo­ken out against the plans, claim­ing they give the Tunisian sec­tor an unfair advan­tage.

And now Copa Cogeca has stepped in to voice its con­cerns over the pro­pos­als and the impact they would have on the European olive oil sec­tor, par­tic­u­larly in south­ern mem­ber states such as Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal.

In a let­ter to the European Commission the group warned the Tunisian pro­posal would hit the European olive oil sec­tor badly and will have a severe impact on the mar­ket, threat­en­ing growth and jobs.

Under the Commission’s deal, in place until the end of 2017, Tunisia would be offered a uni­lat­eral annual duty-free tar­iff quota of 35,000 tons for its exports to the EU. This is on top of the exist­ing 56,700 tons already estab­lished under the long-stand­ing EU-Tunisia Association Agreement.

Copa Cogeca gen­eral sec­re­tary, Pekka Pesonen, believes this kind of deal will give Tunisia an unfair advan­tage.

“It is totally unac­cept­able that the Commission has pro­posed giv­ing Tunisia addi­tional tem­po­rary access to the EU mar­ket with a duty-free tar­iff rate quota of 35,000 tons of olive oil per year for a two-year period when the EU mar­ket is already sat­u­rated and prices in 2014 were 43 per­cent below lev­els seen in 2005.

“Despite the slight price recov­ery in 2015, the sec­tor has not been able to con­sol­i­date and farm gate prices have once again tum­bled since the Commission made this announce­ment.

“The pro­posal by the Commission would increase Tunisia’s total duty-free TRQ to 91,700 tons, plac­ing it on a par with the total pro­duc­tion of a coun­try like Portugal.”

Branding the pro­posal ‘ludi­crous,’ Pesonen said it would also under­mine efforts made by olive oil pro­duc­ers in Europe who have been work­ing hard in recent times to improve the qual­ity of their own pro­duce.

“It is also unjus­ti­fied when the EU still faces major dif­fi­cul­ties enter­ing, for exam­ple, the U.S. mar­ket due to red tape and non-tar­iff bar­ri­ers to trade,” he adds.

“Furthermore, south­ern mem­bers states depend heav­ily on olive oil as a main source of income and this pro­posal would threaten growth and jobs in these regions where often no other source of employ­ment exists.

“We also oppose the Commission’s pro­posal to elim­i­nate the monthly man­age­ment of import licenses. The cur­rent sys­tem did not stop Tunisian oper­a­tors from fill­ing the TRQ when they wished to do so.

“Without monthly man­age­ment of import licenses, it is not pos­si­ble to avoid high lev­els of imports dur­ing a short period of time, which could result in European prices col­laps­ing dur­ing the rest of the mar­ket­ing year.”


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