Tariff Threats, Covid Aftermath Hang Over Spain's Table Olive Harvest

Table olive producers are expecting a slightly better harvest this year than they had in 2019. In spite of this, uncertainty over the future of the sector remains.

By Daniel Dawson
Jul. 16, 2020 09:03 UTC

The Coordinator of Agriculture and Livestock Organizations (COAG) in Andalusia has released its first esti­mates for the 2020 table olive har­vest – one that will arrive amid esca­lat­ing trade ten­sions with the United States and the coun­try’s ongo­ing Covid-19 pan­demic.

Antonio Rodríguez, the head of table olives for COAG Andalusia, said that he expects pro­duc­tion to rebound in the world’s largest table olive pro­duc­ing nation after last year’s poor har­vest.

Less than two months before the next cam­paign for table olives begins and this one already presents itself with plenty of uncer­tainty.- Antonio Rodríguez, head of table olives, COAG Andalusia

According to our tech­ni­cians, this will be a some­what higher har­vest than last year, with great qual­ity and good quan­ti­ties, but lower than the pre­vi­ous five sea­sons, not reach­ing 500,000 tons,” he said.

Preliminary fig­ures from the International Olive Council put the 2019 table olive har­vest in Spain at 500,000 tons, but these have not been revised since November. Table olive pro­duc­tion in Spain has gen­er­ally trended down­ward since its peak in 2015.

See Also:2020 Harvest Updates

In spite of the slight pro­duc­tion rebound and boost in domes­tic demand for table olives, Rodríguez said that 2020 will be a tough har­vest for pro­duc­ers.

Less than two months before the next cam­paign for table olives begins and this one already presents itself with plenty of uncer­tainty,” he said.

Based on cur­rent weather con­di­tions, the har­vest will begin in September – two months ear­lier than nor­mal. Table olive pro­duc­ers will also have to coor­di­nate with local gov­ern­ments to pre­vent the spread of Covid-19 dur­ing the har­vest.

For the pro­duc­ers who har­vest their trees using machines, this will not be an overly dif­fi­cult bur­den.

However, Rodríguez said that pro­duc­ers har­vest­ing olives with a Protected Geographical Indication – specif­i­cally the pro­duc­ers of Manzanilla and Gordal de Sevilla PGIs – would likely need help low­er­ing the costs asso­ci­ated with hand-har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing these local spe­cial­ties while fol­low­ing the nec­es­sary social dis­tanc­ing and safety pro­to­cols.

Once the table olives have been processed and are ready to be sold to retail­ers and exporters, the uncer­tainty con­tin­ues.

A deci­sion by the United States Trade Representative about whether or not to increase the 25 per­cent tar­iff cur­rently faced by green table olive exports from Spain to the U.S. is expected to come in August.

The tar­iffs were rat­i­fied by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and imple­mented last October in retal­i­a­tion to the European Union’s ille­gal sub­si­dies to Airbus, a move that the Spanish gov­ern­ment has defi­antly stood by.

The E.U. has also been defi­ant on the issue and recently announced a list of tar­iffs that it plans to impose on U.S. imports to the trad­ing bloc.

The antic­i­pated retal­ia­tory tar­iffs come as the E.U. expects a pos­i­tive result from its own case that is cur­rently being delib­er­ated on by the WTO. The trad­ing bloc alleges that the U.S. has ille­gally sub­si­dized its own air­craft man­u­fac­turer, Boeing. Legal experts expect the E.U. to win the case.

While legal wran­gling con­tin­ues in Geneva, many in the table olive sec­tor fear that the cur­rent 25 per­cent tar­iff will be increased to 100 per­cent as the U.S. seeks to increase pres­sure on the E.U. to make a deal. Producers also fear that new tar­iffs will be imposed on black table olives.

Asemesa, the Spanish Association of Exporters and Industrialists of Table Olives, has said that the liveli­hood of 7,000 farm­ers would be put at risk if this worst-case tar­iff sce­nario were to come to fruition.


The trade group has strongly lob­bied the Spanish gov­ern­ment and European Commission to solve the dis­pute with­out hav­ing the agri­cul­tural sec­tor take the col­lat­eral dam­age.

“[The gov­ern­ment of Spain and the E.U.] must act urgently to pro­tect farm­ers and the entire sec­tor and not con­tinue idly wait­ing for the Boeing case to be resolved to try to nego­ti­ate then, because a very sig­nif­i­cant part of the olive sec­tor may have dis­ap­peared before then,” Asemesa said.

In spite of pre­vi­ous tar­iffs and the threat of new ones, the U.S. remains the largest des­ti­na­tion for all types of Spanish table olive exports. However, these exports have steadily decreased since the impo­si­tion of the first set of tar­iffs on black olives nearly two years ago.

According to data from the International Trade Center, Spanish table olive exports to the U.S. fell by more than 8,000 tons from 2017 to 2019, even as U.S. table olive imports increased by nearly 20,000 tons over the same period. This has led to an esti­mated loss of $31.6 mil­lion per annum for the sec­tor.

Asemesa con­cluded that addi­tional tar­iffs on table olives would push pro­duc­ers already con­tend­ing with the uncer­tain­ties asso­ci­ated with Brexit, a pend­ing free trade agree­ment with the Mercosur and domes­tic reforms to the Food Chain Law over the edge.

“[This] is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, after a long list of prob­lems and threats that has plagued the sec­tor in recent years,” the trade group said.


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