Spanish Olive Exports to US Plummet Since Tariffs Imposed

The tariffs are slowly redefining the global table olive trade as new producers fill the void left by Spain in the U.S. market and Spanish growers look to the east to sell their crop.

Jun. 6, 2019
By Daniel Dawson

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Spanish black olive exports to the United States have fallen dras­ti­cally since the U.S. slapped tar­iffs on the prod­uct last year.

Black olive exports fell from 7,385 tons in the first quar­ter of 2017 to 3,850 tons in the first four months of 2019, accord­ing to fig­ures from Asemesa, the asso­ci­a­tion of Spanish table olive pro­duc­ers and exporters.

The fore­cast is to lose most of the U.S. black olive mar­ket pro­gres­sively.- Antonio de Mora, the sec­re­tary gen­eral of Asemesa

Previously, 75 per­cent of Spain’s black olive exports made their way to the U.S. That fig­ure has since fallen to 34 per­cent and many pro­duc­ers have been left with nowhere to sell their olives. Some esti­mate that the tar­iffs have cost Spanish olive pro­duc­ers €25.5 mil­lion ($28.4 mil­lion) since they came into force in August 2018 and have led to hun­dreds of lay­offs across the sec­tor.

Officials at Asemesa and through­out the Spanish table olive indus­try are also con­cerned that these tar­iffs will lead to a pro­gres­sive decline in Spanish table olive sales in the U.S., even if the tar­iffs are blocked by the World Trade Organization or lifted.

See Also: Table Olive News

The fore­cast is to lose most of the U.S. black olive mar­ket pro­gres­sively,” Antonio de Mora, the sec­re­tary gen­eral of Asemesa, told Merca2, a Spanish busi­ness pub­li­ca­tion. This is some­thing that will depend, in a large way, on the capac­ity of California and the other coun­tries that export black olives to the U.S. to replace Spain.”

Morocco, Portugal and Egypt have been the largest ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the trade spat between the two coun­tries, see­ing their respec­tive mar­ket shares increase to fill the vac­uum left by Spain.

Morocco has been the biggest ben­e­fi­ciary so far. Its table olive exports to the U.S. have increased by 800 per­cent since 2017. Portugal and Egypt have both enjoyed more mod­est gains, see­ing exports rise by 80 per­cent and 130 per­cent, respec­tively, over the same period of time.

Sales of California-grown olives have also increased since 2017, albeit to a much lesser extent, ris­ing by 5.7 per­cent.

De Mora said that he expects black olive exports to the U.S. to con­tinue falling for as long as the tar­iffs are in place.

This fore­cast has led many grow­ers to acknowl­edge that they may have been over-reliant on the U.S. mar­ket. As a result, table olive pro­duc­ers are now look­ing to the east. China, India and Pakistan are all new tar­get mar­kets from Spanish olives.

These tar­iffs orig­i­nated from an anti-dump­ing com­plaint brought by the U.S. Department of Commerce and a sep­a­rate anti-sub­sidy com­plaint filed by two California pro­duc­ers to the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC). On August 1, 2018 tar­iffs on table olives rose as high as 27 per­cent.

In response, the European Union filed a for­mal com­plaint on behalf of Spain with the World Trade Organization, last February. The trade bloc called the tar­iffs unjus­ti­fied” and unwar­ranted.”

The E.U. later requested the for­ma­tion of a spe­cial task force to inves­ti­gate the sub­si­dies after bilat­eral arbi­tra­tion talks with the U.S. fell apart in March.

However, for the for­ma­tion of the task force to go ahead, a unan­i­mous vote of all the mem­bers was required. The U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tive voted against the task force.

In its defense, the E.U. said that it had seri­ous con­cerns” about the U.S. inves­ti­ga­tion that led to the tar­iffs, includ­ing the U.S. tar­get­ing of non-spe­cific sub­si­dies, the absence of a pass-through analy­sis and the fail­ure to show the imported olives were caus­ing injury to U.S. pro­duc­ers.”

The U.S. responded that it regret­ted the E.U.‘s deci­sion to request a panel and that the duties on Spanish olives were imposed only after thor­ough inves­ti­ga­tions were car­ried out that were fully in line with WTO rules.”

The E.U. will request the for­ma­tion of a spe­cial task force once again at the WTO Dispute Settlement Body’s next meet­ing on June 24.


Until then, uncer­tainty and anx­i­ety remain strong feel­ings through­out the sec­tor. In the province of Seville, where most of Spain’s black olives are grown, pro­duc­ers have had to trim expenses, usu­ally by lay­ing off work­ers or sell­ing their olives for sub­stan­tially less money to olive oil pro­duc­ers.

The indus­try and the sec­tor are still wait­ing for impor­tant mea­sures of sup­port from the E.U. and the rest of the Spanish admin­is­tra­tions to com­pen­sate for the loss of turnover in the U.S. and the huge expense that the defense [of the sec­tor] is tak­ing on before the U.S. mea­sures,” de Mora said.

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