` Nikos Michelakis on Olive Oil Pricing, the Tunisian Quota, Education and Advocacy

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Nikos Michelakis on Olive Oil Pricing, the Tunisian Quota, Education and Advocacy

Nov. 27, 2015
By Lisa Radinovsky

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Nikos Michelakis, a sci­en­tific advi­sor of SEDIK, the Asso­ci­a­tion of Cre­tan Olive Munic­i­pal­i­ties, and a for­mer direc­tor of the Olive Insti­tute of Cha­nia, recently dis­cussed the sta­tus of the olive oil sec­tor in Greece with Olive Oil Times.

Michelakis said the amount of olive oil to be pro­duced this sea­son at the inter­na­tional, national and local lev­els, olive oil imports from Tunisia, and the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion of pro­duc­ers and buy­ers” in Greece, which is unique after six years of eco­nomic cri­sis and almost five months of cap­i­tal con­trols, all tend to reduce pro­duc­ers’ prices.

More­over, new mea­sures are expected to sig­nif­i­cantly increase taxes on Greek farm­ers, some farm­ers in Crete are strug­gling with a short­age of for­eign labor­ers, and no one has been sure when Euro­pean Union farm sub­si­dies would be paid. There has already been a long delay beyond the usual Octo­ber sub­sidy dis­tri­b­u­tion, and Michelakis finds gov­ern­men­tal announce­ments about pay­ment at the begin­ning of Decem­ber overop­ti­mistic.

SEDIK’s price data show that pro­duc­ers’ olive oil prices were sig­nif­i­cantly reduced in early to mid-Novem­ber in all the major olive oil-pro­duc­ing coun­tries, with extra vir­gin olive oil of 0.3 per­cent acid­ity, most recently fluc­tu­at­ing between €2.80 to €3.00 /kg in Greece, €2.89 to €4.29 /kg in Spain (aver­age €3.03), and €3.35 to €4.00 /kg in Italy. Michelakis reported that pro­duc­ers and traders attribute this devel­op­ment to the expected har­vest and, even more, to the duty-free imports from Tunisia.

Michelakis has crit­i­cized the Euro­pean Commission’s deci­sion to increase duty-free imports of Tunisian olive oil into the EU by 35,000 met­ric tons (in addi­tion to the usual 56,700 annu­ally) by the end of 2017. While he real­ized that the deci­sion was jus­ti­fied as sup­port­ing the Tunisian econ­omy after severe losses in the tourism sec­tor fol­low­ing the ter­ror­ist attacks last July, Michelakis sug­gested that the offer to import from Tunisia more than half of its aver­age annual pro­duc­tion, amount­ing to 160,000 tons,” was not a purely human­i­tar­ian ges­ture of direct eco­nomic sup­port to Tunisia.

Rather, Μichelakis sug­gested that the main rea­son for the plan seems to be the desire of the Euro­pean stan­dard­iza­tion indus­try to ensure lower prod­uct prices.” He argued that this increase of duty-free olive oil imports into the EU ben­e­fits the EU (olive oil) stan­dard­iza­tion indus­tries, par­tic­u­larly in Italy and Spain,” since the new pol­icy increases the avail­abil­ity of a cheaper prod­uct for stan­dard­iza­tion indus­tries that will com­pete” with olive oil pro­duced in Europe, reduc­ing the prices of Euro­pean farm­ers’ prod­ucts and decreas­ing their income. He con­tends that this helps to explain the down­ward trend in prices that began imme­di­ately after the announce­ment.”

Michelakis men­tioned that Copa-Cogeca, the orga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing Euro­pean farm­ers and coop­er­a­tives, sub­mit­ted a mem­o­ran­dum to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion express­ing its oppo­si­tion to the EU plan. At the time of his inter­view, he was sur­prised not to have heard any expres­sions of con­cern from Greek agri­cul­tural orga­ni­za­tions, in spite of what he called poten­tially cat­a­strophic reper­cus­sions” on the Euro­pean mar­ket that could threaten growth and jobs in the mem­ber states of the south.”

The Greek Min­is­ter of Rural Devel­op­ment and Food, Evan­ge­los Apos­tolou, more recently men­tioned to the Euro­pean Coun­cil of Agri­cul­ture and Fish­eries Min­is­ters that we must care­fully exam­ine the impact of such con­ces­sions on Euro­pean pro­duc­ers,” as Agro­cap­i­tal reports. Even so, on Novem­ber 24, after pro­duc­ers faced a sig­nif­i­cant drop in olive oil prices in Her­ak­lion, Crete (from €3.50 to €2.80 /kg), Nea Kriti reported that Vasilis Kegeroglou, a mem­ber of Par­lia­ment from Crete, asked the Min­is­ter to rec­tify” the prob­lem many believed was cre­ated by the increase in the Tunisian import quota. The same day, Ago­naskri­tis reported that the pres­i­dent of the Union of Agri­cul­tural Coop­er­a­tives of Her­ak­lion, Andreas Stratakis, asked Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras to remove Apos­tolou from his posi­tion as Min­is­ter of Rural Devel­op­ment and Food since he con­sents” to the increased import quota from Tunisia.

Prob­lems are pil­ing up for many Greek pro­duc­ers, who hardly need more dif­fi­cul­ties. Michelakis explained that SEDIK’s goals include increas­ing the use of olive oil in cater­ing estab­lish­ments and restau­rants, improv­ing the diets of Cre­tans and vis­i­tors to Crete, devel­op­ing gas­tro­nomic tourism, and pro­mot­ing the con­sump­tion of local prod­ucts, thereby pro­vid­ing more employ­ment on the island.

One of SEDIK’s ini­tia­tives is a cam­paign to increase aware­ness of youth on the health, taste, and cul­tural value of olive oil” in coop­er­a­tion with the Inter­na­tional Olive Oil Coun­cil. In addi­tion to spon­sor­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of edu­ca­tional mate­ri­als about olive oil in both Greek and Eng­lish, SEDIK has invited munic­i­pal­i­ties, schools, teach­ers, and par­ents to join them in orga­niz­ing spe­cial events for chil­dren through­out Crete that could include dis­cus­sions, DVDs, games, exhibits, and tast­ings of dishes made with olive oil.

Eight years ago, SEDIK estab­lished the Olive Tastes Net­work of Crete to pro­mote the healthy, tasty, and cul­tural value of Cre­tan olive oil and related prod­ucts through inspec­tion and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of restau­rants using olive oil as their only oil, and by pro­vid­ing label­ing, infor­ma­tion, and adver­tis­ing in Greek and Eng­lish. (Next year, it intends to begin cer­ti­fy­ing stores as well.) Two years ago, it began to receive fund­ing from the EU to expand the net­work to include Cyprus.

In early Novem­ber, Michelakis reported, the Gen­eral Assem­bly of the Olive Tastes Net­work met at the offices of SEDIK in Cha­nia, Crete to dis­cuss their goals and con­cerns. These include a push for clearer indi­ca­tions on menus of the type of oil used by restau­rants, espe­cially for fry­ing, and an explo­ration of the fea­si­bil­ity of requir­ing sin­gle-use branded pack­ag­ing for fresh olive oil pro­vided on restau­rant tables in Greece. Many other major olive oil-pro­duc­ing coun­tries require this, since it helps pro­mote the health ben­e­fits and taste of high-qual­ity olive oil, increases brand recog­ni­tion and appre­ci­a­tion, and sup­ports the devel­op­ment of gas­tro­nomic tourism.

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