Europe

Europe Approves Controversial Aid Including Duty-Free Imports of Tunisian Olive Oil

Mar. 11, 2016
By Ylenia Granitto

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The European Parliament in a ple­nary ses­sion in Strasbourg approved the final emer­gency aid pack­age for Tunisia, which includes a reg­u­la­tion to allow the impor­ta­tion of 70,000 tons of olive oil over two years year to the European Union with­out addi­tional duties.

The vote on the mea­sures had been sus­pended in February, but was placed in the agenda of Thursday’s ses­sion, after the Coreper (Comité des représen­tants per­ma­nents) announced in a letter its approval of the amend­ments. The emer­gency quota was finally approved by 500 votes to 107, with 42 absten­tions.

Following the Council’s agree­ment, the mea­sure is mit­i­gated by addi­tional safe­guards for EU pro­duc­ers which include:

  • a mid-term assess­ment under which the mea­sure is tem­po­rary and valid only for two years, until December 2017
  • a “track­ing clause” oblig­a­tion to ensure that all olive oil under the quota is obtained entirely in, and trans­ported directly from, Tunisia to guar­an­tee the trace­abil­ity
  • the com­mit­ment to update the mea­sures if will result to be harm­ful for EU pro­duc­ers
  • the exclu­sion of the pro­lon­ga­tion of the emer­gency mea­sures beyond the ini­tial two years

The reason behind the con­tro­ver­sial deci­sion is to sup­port the North African coun­try’s econ­omy after the ter­ror­ist attacks of March 18 and June 26, 2015 hit the Tunisian econ­omy hard.

“The adop­tion of these emer­gency mea­sures is good news for Tunisia, which is facing very seri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties,” said the French rap­por­teur, Marielle de Sarnez (from ALDE the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) after the vote.

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“Increasing the zero-duty olive oil quota, with­out increas­ing total export vol­umes, will pro­vide essen­tial help for Tunisia, and is not likely to desta­bi­lize the European market. What is at stake here is the suc­cess of Tunisia’s tran­si­tion to democ­racy, which is vital not only for Tunisia but also for Europeans.”

The olive oil sector indi­rectly employs more than a mil­lion Tunisians, account­ing for one-fifth of jobs in the country’s agri­cul­tural indus­try and olive oil is Tunisia’s main agri­cul­tural export.

A rally organized by Coldiretti in Catania (Sicily)

The text needs the impri­matur of the EU Council to be for­mally approved, and will enter into force 20 days after its pub­li­ca­tion in the Official EU Journal, once the two co-leg­is­la­tors have signed it during the ple­nary ses­sion in April.

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The deci­sion has prompted con­cern, espe­cially among Italian farm­ers. “After the increase by 481 per­cent of imports of olive oil from Tunisia to Italy in 2015 for over 99,000 tons, it is an error to allow the addi­tional tem­po­rary access to the EU market of Tunisian olive oil duty free in 2016 and 2017,” said the pres­i­dent of Coldiretti Roberto Moncalvo during a rally that brought together thou­sands of farm­ers in Catania (Sicily).

The mobi­liza­tion orga­nized by the agri­cul­tural orga­ni­za­tion Coldiretti aims to raise public aware­ness of the sit­u­a­tion, which many see as part of a broad attack on Italy’s iconic prod­ucts by com­mu­nity poli­cies, market dis­tor­tions and the agro­mafia. Placards demanded “food origin on the label now” and declared “those who attack ‘Made in Italy’ attack Italy.”

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“I remain firmly opposed to any per­ma­nent increase of the Tunisian olive oil quota,” said Agricultural Minister Maurizio Martina. “We have laid down clear con­di­tions on the imple­men­ta­tion and monthly quotas and we do not intend to give up regard­ing these points. If we will have no guar­an­tees, we will con­tinue to oppose to the adop­tion of the reg­u­la­tion.”