` Olive Council Welcomes U.S. Report, But Queries Objectivity in Parts

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Olive Council Welcomes U.S. Report, But Queries Objectivity in Parts

Sep. 23, 2013
By Julie Butler

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The Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil has praised the United States Inter­na­tional Trade Com­mis­sion (USITC) for the effort behind its report on com­pe­ti­tion in the global olive oil trade but laments that opin­ions as opposed to facts” are at times con­veyed in it.

At times, the opin­ions and infor­ma­tion reported may not be suf­fi­ciently objec­tive, cor­rob­o­rated or con­sis­tent- Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil.

In its first pub­lic com­ment on the USITC doc­u­ment since its Sep­tem­ber 12 release, the IOC said the com­mis­sion had gone to great lengths to inves­ti­gate the intri­ca­cies of the olive oil mar­ket” and it greatly applauds this endeavor and acknowl­edges the dif­fi­culty of such a task.”

But the Exec­u­tive Sec­re­tariat of the Madrid-based inter­gov­ern­men­tal body went on to say that enquiries had been con­ducted in many coun­tries and orga­ni­za­tions which often have dis­sim­i­lar and diverg­ing inter­ests.”

At times, the opin­ions and infor­ma­tion reported may not be suf­fi­ciently objec­tive, cor­rob­o­rated or con­sis­tent, but in no way does this detract from the efforts of the USITC; sim­ply, on such occa­sions, opin­ions as opposed to facts are con­veyed,” the IOC said.

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In its state­ment, titled Recently released USITC report high­lights cen­tral role of IOC in olive oil world,” the IOC also said it appre­ci­ated the acknowl­edg­ment of its role as a world olive oil forum and its posi­tion as an author­ity in areas such as olive prod­ucts stan­dard­iza­tion,” and noted the USITC report referred to the IOC more than 300 times.

Con­cerns about cur­rent IOC stan­dards

Among the main find­ings in the USITC report were that cur­rent inter­na­tional stan­dards allow a wide range of olive oils to be mar­keted as extra vir­gin, that the stan­dards are widely unen­forced, and that this leads to adul­ter­ated and mis­la­beled prod­ucts that weaken the com­pet­i­tive­ness of U.S.-produced olive oil in the U.S. mar­ket.

Titled Olive Oil: Con­di­tions of Com­pe­ti­tion between U.S. and Major For­eign Sup­plier Indus­tries,” the 282-page report said a grow­ing seg­ment of the global olive oil indus­try had expressed con­cerns about cur­rent IOC stan­dards for olive oil, par­tic­u­larly those for extra vir­gin.

Many indus­try offi­cials claim that by set­ting stan­dards for extra vir­gin that are eas­ily met, the IOC is favor­ing the inter­ests of its Mediter­ranean mem­bers that are the pri­mary sup­pli­ers of lower-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil in the global mar­ket instead of the inter­ests of con­sumers,” the report found.

Among other issues raised were that chem­i­cal tests in the IOC qual­ity stan­dards are not defin­i­tive in deter­min­ing the age of an olive oil, which can be an indi­ca­tor of fresh­ness. Olive oil pro­duc­ers in the United States and Aus­tralia report frus­tra­tion over the IOC’s reluc­tance to con­sider what they view as the most advanced chem­i­cal tests avail­able for this pur­pose,” the report said.

Despite its 17-coun­try mem­ber­ship, the IOC agenda is largely set by EU coun­tries with large pro­duc­tion and exports, par­tic­u­larly Spain and Italy,” it also said.

Report­edly, large multi­na­tional olive oil blenders/bottlers in those coun­tries have been par­tic­u­larly active in influ­enc­ing the activ­i­ties of the orga­ni­za­tion through their offi­cial EU rep­re­sen­ta­tives.”

Why the U.S. won’t join the IOC

The IOC ended its state­ment with an invi­ta­tion for all pro­ducer coun­tries — and all the con­sumer coun­tries in the not too dis­tant future” – to join the IOC.

Coop­er­a­tion among all coun­tries, and the align­ment and ful­fill­ment of stan­dards, is of key impor­tance in the drive to enhance the qual­ity and authen­tic­ity of the olive oils sold across the globe and to facil­i­tate trad­ing by pre­clud­ing unfair com­pe­ti­tion,” it said.

But the USITC report said the U.S. gov­ern­ment did not wish to become a mem­ber of the IOC, for pol­icy and finan­cial rea­sons.” It said this infor­ma­tion came from U.S. Depart­ment of State and U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture offi­cials.

One issue is the stan­dards devel­oped by the IOC for grad­ing olive oil. The United States views these stan­dards as not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of all global olive oil pro­duc­tion due to the IOC’s weighted vot­ing struc­ture, which, accord­ing to U.S. gov­ern­ment offi­cials, keeps the IOC from cur­rently being rec­og­nized as a stan­dards-set­ting body by the World Trade Orga­ni­za­tion (WTO),” USITC reported.

The U.S. stance on IOC mem­ber­ship is also related to broader U.S. gov­ern­ment pol­icy on U.S. mem­ber­ship in inter­na­tional com­mod­ity orga­ni­za­tions.”

Accord­ing to U.S. gov­ern­ment offi­cials, the U.S. gov­ern­ment would like to curb U.S. mem­ber­ship in such groups; indeed, the trend over the last decade has been for the U.S. gov­ern­ment to with­draw from them,” it said.

Sep­a­rately, the USITC report said the IOC allo­cates 1,000 par­tic­i­pa­tion shares among its mem­bers based on their aver­age olive oil pro­duc­tion and exports in the past six years. The EU cur­rently holds 684 shares and because the U.S. is a small pro­ducer it would likely receive the min­i­mum 5 shares if it became an IOC mem­ber.

The U.S. does, how­ever, have IOC observer sta­tus, which allows it to fol­low the tech­ni­cal work in IOC com­mit­tees.

The IOC said in its state­ment that is a neu­tral, inter­gov­ern­men­tal insti­tu­tion which has always attended to the needs of all coun­tries, whether they are mem­ber or non-mem­ber, pro­duc­ing or con­sum­ing.”



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