`U.S. Launches Coordinated Strikes on E.U. Olive Oil Strongholds from Washington and Sacramento - Olive Oil Times

U.S. Launches Coordinated Strikes on E.U. Olive Oil Strongholds from Washington and Sacramento

Sep. 25, 2013
Curtis Cord

Recent News

California State Senator Lois Wolk and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp

It might not have been the offen­sive many were expect­ing over the past few weeks, though it was care­fully tar­geted.

First, there was the release of a report on a year-long inves­ti­ga­tion by the United States International Trade Commission that some experts say will pro­vide ample grounds for trade actions and for­mal WTO com­plaints against E.U. olive oils imported into the U.S.

And yes­ter­day, California passed a law to cre­ate its own olive oil com­mis­sion to con­duct research, rec­om­mend stan­dards, orga­nize efforts to cap­ture mar­ket share and oth­er­wise wage war on low-qual­ity imports.

The prox­im­ity of the two events might seem coin­ci­den­tal, but they are the results of an orga­nized assault by a group of American pro­duc­ers and stake­hold­ers now known as the American Olive Oil Producers Association (AOOPA), and their Australian allies.


Their roots go back to a Dixon, California meet­ing where grow­ers drafted and dis­cussed a domes­tic mar­ket­ing order with the even­tual aim of hold­ing imports to higher stan­dards.

Then, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from California and Georgia were suc­cess­ful in lob­by­ing the pow­er­ful House Ways and Means Committee to request a USITC inves­ti­ga­tion into the con­di­tions of com­pe­ti­tion” faced by the fledg­ling American olive oil indus­try.

The December, 2012 hear­ing at the USITC in Washington was such a pile-on that Commissioner Shara L. Aranoff, a Maryland Democrat appointed by George W. Bush, said somberly, I’m a bit afraid my chil­dren will find out what I’ve been feed­ing them all these years.”

At the hear­ing, Alexander Ott, then exec­u­tive direc­tor of the new AOOPA, spent much of his five-minute allot­ment — and more time dur­ing direct ques­tion­ing — stress­ing the nonex­is­tence of any mar­ket­ing order for olive oil: There is no mar­ket­ing order,” Ott stressed repeat­edly through­out the day, adding the hys­te­ria over a poten­tial fed­eral mar­ket­ing order is some­what humor­ous.” (Ott is no longer with the asso­ci­a­tion)

The mys­ti­cal mar­ket­ing order, how­ever, found a way into the United States Farm Bill. California pro­duc­ers pushed for a pro­vi­sion that would have required imported oils to be sub­ject to restric­tions such as taste test­ing when a mar­ket­ing order for olive oil is estab­lished. The California Olive Oil Council called the olive oil pro­vi­sion part of a com­mon sense pro­gram requir­ing imports to be held to the same stan­dards as American olive oil.”

At around the same time, Lois Wolk — the Davis, California state sen­a­tor and a Dixon attendee — was hold­ing a hear­ing of her own in Sacramento before a packed room and an audi­ence of hun­dreds who watched live via a web­cast. Wolk’s newly-formed State Senate Subcommittee on Olive Oil and Emerging Products” heard a pro­ces­sion of wit­nesses pre­sent­ing their accounts of the chal­lenges faced by the state’s olive oil pro­duc­ers who con­fronted, they said, unfair com­pe­ti­tion from unscrupu­lous European pro­duc­ers and importers who don’t play by the rules.

Wolk went on to gar­ner bipar­ti­san sup­port for the bill signed into law yes­ter­day that sanc­tioned the for­ma­tion of the state com­mis­sion that will use annual assess­ments, col­lected from pro­duc­ers who make over 5,000 gal­lons per year, to enhance the com­pet­i­tive­ness of the indus­try within the state, national, and inter­na­tional mar­ket­place.”

But the big guns are in Washington, and law­mak­ers are expected to not let the esti­mated $2 mil­lion tax­pay­ers spent on the USITC report be wasted. Such reports often result in for­mal com­plaints and trade actions includ­ing higher tar­iffs and import restric­tions.

I don’t think any­one can deny it has been a pretty bad cou­ple of weeks for American importers and their European part­ners,” said an olive oil bro­ker who wished not to be named.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the International Olive Council has had lit­tle to say about the lat­est offen­sive except to acknowl­edge the impres­sive effort that went into the USITC report, and to argue that some of the infor­ma­tion it con­tained was debat­able, though it didn’t say which.

No one is ques­tion­ing one of the find­ings by the inves­ti­ga­tors: that the United States has no plans to join the Madrid-based IOC, cit­ing gov­ern­ment offi­cials who con­firmed an increas­ingly iso­la­tion­ist pol­icy toward U.S. mem­ber­ship in inter­na­tional com­mod­ity orga­ni­za­tions.”

Like a U.N. Security Council par­a­lyzed by a Russian veto, the U.N.-sanctioned International Olive Council is seen by American agen­cies as unlikely to fur­ther U.S. inter­ests, with the mere five par­tic­i­pa­tion shares” it would have, com­pared with Europe’s 684.

The Americans will not need to go it alone this time, how­ever. Australian pro­duc­ers, and their fear­less leader, Paul Miller, have waged a sus­tained cam­paign that has man­aged to push back imports using a new set of qual­ity stan­dards and con­ven­tional PR. Imports into Australia fell seven per­cent last year. Such a decline in American olive oil imports would amount to 22,000 tons — or almost three times what the U.S. pro­duces — bring­ing a whole new mean­ing to the Land of Oz.”

Do you have an opin­ion you’d like to share in an arti­cle? See our sub­mis­sion form and guide­lines here.

Olive Oil Times Video Series

Related Articles

Feedback / Suggestions