`Politicized Debate in Greece Over Proposed EU Increase in Tunisian Quotas - Olive Oil Times

Politicized Debate in Greece Over Proposed EU Increase in Tunisian Quotas

Nov. 30, 2015
Lisa Radinovsky

Recent News

After months of rel­a­tive silence on the European Commission (EC) pro­posal to increase duty-free imports of Tunisian olive oil into the EU by 35,000 met­ric tons per year in 2016 and 2017, Greek union­ists and politi­cians have begun to debate the issue. The ques­tion is not whether to sup­port the pro­posal, since almost no one does, but whom to blame for sup­port­ing it.

Since late November, two lines of argu­ment have dom­i­nated the debate. One side claims that the increased import quota ben­e­fits the olive oil stan­dard­iza­tion indus­try of Italy and Spain by reduc­ing oil prices with an infu­sion of cheaper olive oil from Tunisia, thus harm­ing Greek (and other European) farm­ers.

The main con­cern of the gov­ern­ment is the pro­tec­tion of the agri­cul­tural world and the pro­duc­tive recon­struc­tion of the coun­try.- Nikos Papadopoulos

This side opposes the quota increase and crit­i­cizes the Greek gov­ern­ment for allegedly fail­ing to oppose it, argu­ing that Greek farm­ers are already strug­gling enough with an eco­nomic cri­sis, delayed EU sub­sidy pay­ments, and the expec­ta­tion of dras­tic tax increases.

Many point to the recent major drop in olive oil prices in Greece, Spain, and Italy as evi­dence that this line of argu­ment is valid. In Greece, some agri­cul­tural union lead­ers and politi­cians crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ing coali­tion com­posed of the left­ist SYRIZA and the right-wing Independent Greeks, or ANEL, have made such claims.

The pres­i­dent of the Union of Agricultural Cooperatives of Heraklion, Crete, Andreas Stratakis, has gone so far as to call for the removal of the Minister of Agriculture and Food, Evangelos Apostolou, whom many blame for either allegedly sup­port­ing or at least fail­ing to strongly oppose the pro­posal.


On the other hand, sup­port­ers of the gov­ern­ing coali­tion and of Minister Apostolou offer sev­eral argu­ments in his sup­port — but not in sup­port of the increase in the Tunisian quota. His sup­port­ers point out that Apostolou was not at the September meet­ing where this pro­posal was first approved; rather, a mem­ber of the tem­po­rary care­taker gov­ern­ment attended the meet­ing in that pre-elec­tion period.

Furthermore, the dis­cus­sion of the Tunisian quota at that point was not pri­mar­ily about agri­cul­tural mat­ters under Apostolou’s juris­dic­tion, but about human­i­tar­ian assis­tance for a coun­try that was the vic­tim of jihadist ter­ror­ism.

Two recent press releases from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food empha­sized that Apostolou had on sev­eral occa­sions objected to the pro­posal and the fact that it was drafted with­out con­sul­ta­tion with agri­cul­ture min­is­ters, as well as expressed con­cern about its effect on farm­ers. The press releases added that there had been no final deci­sion on the quota increase, and no increase in Tunisian oil imports into the EU so far.

Apostolou warned that those who for rea­sons of petty polit­i­cal con­fronta­tion cul­ti­vate an atmos­phere of panic among the pro­duc­ers are play­ing the game of spec­u­la­tors who seek a col­lapse in the price of out­stand­ing Greek olive oil,” urg­ing them to be care­ful.

Panayotis Karantonis, a mem­ber of the International Olive Council (IOC) advi­sory com­mit­tee and direc­tor of ESVITE, told Olive Oil Times that he regarded the issue from a regional and global per­spec­tive. He acknowl­edged that Greek farm­ers are fac­ing a very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion — no doubt about it. If you con­sider it on an agri­cul­tural basis only, you should be with the Greek farm­ers, but if you con­sider the big­ger pic­ture, you have to recon­sider.”

Karantonis pointed out that the pro­posal was made by for­eign min­is­ters who were look­ing beyond the agri­cul­tural sec­tor to con­cerns about ter­ror­ists in North Africa, seek­ing a way to demon­strate sol­i­dar­ity with the sec­u­lar Tunisian gov­ern­ment and show that Europeans are with the Muslim peo­ple who are not rad­i­cal jihadists.”

Especially since Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid was exec­u­tive direc­tor of the IOC from 2004 to 2010 — as another Tunisian, Abdellatif Ghedira, will be, start­ing January 1 — an offer to increase duty-free imports of one of the country’s major exports may have seemed like a rea­son­able ges­ture of sol­i­dar­ity. Since the major­ity of EU coun­tries in favor of the increase vir­tu­ally ensures its approval, Karantonis rec­om­mends that Greece vote in its favor as well, to cul­ti­vate its rela­tion­ship with Tunisia.

However, Agronews reported that SYRIZA Member of Parliament Nikos Papadopoulos sug­gested that the main con­cern of the gov­ern­ment is the pro­tec­tion of the agri­cul­tural world and the pro­duc­tive recon­struc­tion of the coun­try,” so that the gov­ern­ment would oppose the pro­posal, in spite of the orig­i­nal aim of protect[ing] the Tunisian econ­omy fol­low­ing the recent ter­ror­ist attacks.”

Karantonis argues that Tunisia’s reduced olive oil pro­duc­tion this year means it will export no more than 110,000 met­ric tons, which could hardly pose a real threat to European farm­ers. This is espe­cially true since it is already pos­si­ble for coun­tries such as Italy and Spain to legally import large amounts of raw mate­ri­als to be processed and exported (rather than cir­cu­lated in the EU) under exist­ing inward pro­cess­ing arrange­ments. The only dif­fer­ence with the new pro­posal is that an addi­tional duty-free 35,000 met­ric tons can cir­cu­late within the EU mar­ket, but 35,000 [met­ric] tons will not destroy Greek farm­ers” or solve the prob­lems of the Italian” proces­sors.

Given these fac­tors, Karantonis con­tends that the Tunisian duty-free import quota increase has a more psy­cho­log­i­cal than real” effect on olive oil prices, which were bound to decrease in any case, given Spain and Italy’s greater pro­duc­tion this year. He does admit that this dis­cus­sion has def­i­nitely affected the cli­mate in the mar­ket,” and per­haps speeded up the pace of the fall in prices.

Karantonis also cau­tions that next year’s crop esti­mates should be watched care­fully, since a quota increase could become a prob­lem in 2017 if very high yields are expected for next year’s har­vest. In that case, the EC’s offer to recon­sider quo­tas should be taken up. The other thing to watch is the ongo­ing dis­cus­sion between Mediterranean coun­tries and the EU about a free trade area,” which has already been signed by the EU and Morocco, mak­ing Moroccan prod­ucts free of import duties. If Tunisia signs that, ALL its pro­duc­tion could enter the EU duty-free. This is a real threat, and we must be care­ful and try to stop this.” But that has noth­ing to do with the cur­rent quota increase pro­posal.

It appears that a low olive oil price now feels like a greater threat to Greek farm­ers than jihadist ter­ror­ists do, but sup­port of the Tunisian gov­ern­ment and peo­ple through a tem­po­rary quota increase may not hurt Greek farm­ers as much as they fear.


Related Articles

Feedback / Suggestions