`Spanish Producers Fear Imminent U.S. Import Restrictions

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Spanish Producers Fear Imminent U.S. Import Restrictions

Oct. 24, 2012
Charlie Higgins

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A har­vester at Cal­i­for­nia Olive Ranch

Span­ish olive oil pro­duc­ers are up in arms over the unfair” and absurd” mar­ket­ing order being con­sid­ered in the United States Con­gress they fear would place heavy restric­tions on the impor­ta­tion of olive oils, accord­ing to La Rioja.

The United States, which imports more olive oil than any coun­try in the world, pur­chased a total of 61,470 tons from Spain in 2011. The top oil-pro­duc­ing state of Cal­i­for­nia pumps out approx­i­mately 10,000 tons annu­ally — a fig­ure dwarfed in com­par­i­son to the 276,000 tons imported each year, mostly from Spain and Italy– but pro­duc­ers in the Golden State have ambi­tions to pro­duce much more than that.

The mar­ket­ing order was first pre­sented last Jan­u­ary at a con­fer­ence in Dixon, Cal­i­for­nia and has since become a hot issue in the indus­try. Cal­i­for­nia pro­duc­ers say the mar­ket­ing order could reduce the amount of poorly labeled and sub­stan­dard olive oils arriv­ing from over­seas, lev­el­ing the play­ing field for local pro­duc­ers to com­pete with imported olive oils.

Mean­while, the North Amer­i­can Olive Oil Asso­ci­a­tion, com­prised of major importers and dis­trib­u­tors, called the new ini­tia­tive an attempt to restrict trade by com­pletely elim­i­nat­ing sev­eral cat­e­gories of olive oil, while also impos­ing rejected test meth­ods on the indus­try.”

Gre­go­rio López, head of the olive sec­tor at Spain’s Coor­di­na­tor of Agri­cul­tural and Live­stock Orga­ni­za­tions (COAG), said the steps being taken by the United States are, out of char­ac­ter” and an abuse” that has put olive oil pro­duc­ers on alert.”

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López said the orga­ni­za­tion is wary that the pro­posed restric­tions, which include enforc­ing 100 per­cent qual­ity con­trol of incom­ing prod­ucts (cur­rently only 5 per­cent is ana­lyzed) and stricter olive oil label­ing stan­dards, will result in Span­ish olive oils being held up at cus­toms.”

We must sit down with the Amer­i­cans to see what they are doing. We must act with speed and agility and lay ground rules so that pro­duc­ers are not harmed.” López said.

Other indus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Spain pointed out that although the issue has been ongo­ing for months, it is just now heat­ing up on the eve of a close elec­tion in which Pres­i­dent Barack Obama needs to pick up votes in Cal­i­for­nia.


Jaime Gar­cia-Legaz

Though a deci­sion has yet to be made, Spain’s Min­is­ter of Com­merce Jaime Gar­cia-Legaz has been mon­i­tor­ing the issue closely to pro­tect the best inter­ests of olive oil pro­duc­ers who have suf­fered major losses in recent years.

In March, Gar­cia-Legaz trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton where he met with USDA Under­sec­re­tary for Mar­ket­ing and Reg­u­la­tory Pro­grams Edward Ava­los and Deputy U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Miriam Sapiro to dis­cuss Spain’s posi­tion on the mat­ter.



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