`U.S. Olive Oil Imports Fall Due to Coronavirus

N. America

U.S. Olive Oil Imports Fall Due to Coronavirus

Apr. 13, 2020
Paolo DeAndreis

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The pre­vi­ously strong and ever-grow­ing U.S. olive oil import mar­ket is tak­ing a hit as the world grap­ples with COVID-19-fueled trade dis­rup­tions. Early 2020 import fig­ures and World Trade Orga­ni­za­tion (WTO) pro­jec­tions show that imports have already slowed and won’t speed up again for some time.

Accord­ing to U.S. Cen­sus Bureau data ana­lyzed by World­C­ity, the first signs of an import slow­down were first recorded in Novem­ber 2019, when the total value of the imports fell below $80 mil­lion for the first time since 2014.

Imports to the United States totaled some $171 mil­lion in the first two months of 2020, a 13-per­cent decrease from the same period in 2019. More than one-third of the imports ($60 mil­lion) came from Italy, fol­lowed by Spain ($36 mil­lion), Tunisia ($27 mil­lion) and Por­tu­gal ($20 mil­lion).

See more: COVID-19 Effects on Food Sup­ply

Still, the over­all 2018 and 2019 sea­sons saw record-high import vol­umes, with the total value for April 2018 alone reach­ing $150 mil­lion. In the last two years, the Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil (IOC) esti­mated that U.S. imports exceeded 350,000 tons of olive oil and olive pomace oil — a 12-per­cent growth over the pre­vi­ous years.

Also dur­ing 2018 and 2019, 36 per­cent of the world’s olive oil exports were imported into the United States. Most of the imports came from Italy, par­tic­u­larly high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil, with Spain trail­ing close behind. IOC fig­ures for 2018 and 2019 also hint at over­all growth in imports from Turkey, Por­tu­gal and Tunisia.

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The COVID-19 pan­demic threw a wrench into that strength­en­ing mar­ket. Both importers and exporters are fac­ing new restric­tions and com­pli­ca­tions in trade routes as the coun­tries pivot to try to stem the spread­ing of the virus.

Ital­ian olive oil pro­ducer Monini, a com­pany that, in the past, has exported more than 40 per­cent of its prod­uct to Europe and the United States, is warn­ing of rapidly grow­ing costs for trans­porta­tion.

We are work­ing dou­ble shifts,” said Monini CEO Zef­ferino Monini. Domes­tic demand from house­holds keeps grow­ing, mak­ing up for the loss of the restau­rant and pub­lic sec­tors. Orders from abroad [have] also increased sub­stan­tially since Feb­ru­ary.”

Still, the fluc­tu­at­ing cost of mov­ing goods within the Euro­pean Union dur­ing the pan­demic is forc­ing all olive oil sup­ply chain stake­hold­ers to con­tin­u­ously reshape their oper­a­tions. Uncer­tain trans­porta­tion dynam­ics, cou­pled with the reduced price of olive oil on the mar­ket, are low­er­ing profit mar­gins and com­pelling the major play­ers to push for a reshap­ing of the over­all oper­a­tions of the major play­ers in the field.

The next few months will be the hard­est for the whole chain. The WTO esti­mates that all exports are des­tined to suf­fer dou­ble-digit declines in 2020, espe­cially in the first half of the year. But there is good news, too — the WTO is also pre­dict­ing a robust rebound for 2021.



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