Gammarth, Tunisia

European Members of Parliament have endorsed a plan to help the Tunisian economy in the wake of last year’s terrorists attacks by allowing 70,000 tons of duty-free olive oil imports.

Since the proposal was first announced last September, there has been widespread criticism amongst other EU producer countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece. Many in the sector believe the measures will lead to an imbalance and give Tunisia and unfair advantage.

The EU stands alongside Tunisians and that we intend to exercise solidarity in a tangible way- Marielle de Sarnez

Nonetheless, MEPs from the European Parliament trade committee voted earlier this week to rubber stamp the emergency measures which were backed by 31 votes to seven, with one abstention.

Tunisian tourism has been severely damaged since a terrorist incident in June 2015 when 38 European tourists were gunned down at a beach resort in Sousse and another 39 injured. The number of British and other northern European holidaymakers have plummeted since Islamic State claimed responsibility for the massacre.

The EU said the emergency measures are a “show of solidarity” towards Tunisia during difficult times.

“At a time when Tunisia is facing very serious problems, our vote gives the right signal; that the EU stands alongside Tunisians and that we intend to exercise solidarity in a tangible way,” said rapporteur Marielle de Sarnez.

Acknowledging the concerns from other nations, the duty-free allowance can be reviewed and changed, but only after one year.

“I know that for colleagues from some countries, the question of olive oil is a sensitive one.

“I want to reassure them that the amendment we adopted provides that, if after a year we realize that there is indeed a problem, the Commission may then take steps to rectify the imbalance,” she added.

The next step will be for the emergency measures to go before full European Parliament and if they go through, Tunisia will be allowed a two-year, duty-free quota of 35,000 tons per year.

The olive oil sector indirectly employs more than one million people in Tunisia accounting for one-fifth of jobs in the agricultural industry. Olive oil is also Tunisia’s main agricultural export.


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