Copa Cogeca general secretary, Pekka Pesonen (Photo: Copa-Cogeca)

European farmer and cooperative organization Copa Cogeca has criticized European Commission plans to significantly increase duty-free import quotas for Tunisian olive oil.

Last month the European Commission announced plans to help the Tunisian economy recover following terror attacks in June when tourists were gunned down on a beach in Sousse by an ISIS supporter.

The country’s tourist industry has suffered as visitor numbers have fallen off, impacting on the economy as a whole.

“Tunisia can count on the EU’s support in such a difficult time,” said Federica Mogherini, EU High Rep at the time of the announcement.

Since then, some olive oil organizations in countries like Spain and Italy have spoken out against the plans, claiming they give the Tunisian sector an unfair advantage.

And now Copa Cogeca has stepped in to voice its concerns over the proposals and the impact they would have on the European olive oil sector, particularly in southern member states such as Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal.

In a letter to the European Commission the group warned the Tunisian proposal would hit the European olive oil sector badly and will have a severe impact on the market, threatening growth and jobs.

Under the Commission’s deal, in place until the end of 2017, Tunisia would be offered a unilateral annual duty-free tariff quota of 35,000 tons for its exports to the EU. This is on top of the existing 56,700 tons already established under the long-standing EU-Tunisia Association Agreement.

Copa Cogeca general secretary, Pekka Pesonen, believes this kind of deal will give Tunisia an unfair advantage.

“It is totally unacceptable that the Commission has proposed giving Tunisia additional temporary access to the EU market with a duty-free tariff rate quota of 35,000 tons of olive oil per year for a two-year period when the EU market is already saturated and prices in 2014 were 43 percent below levels seen in 2005.

“Despite the slight price recovery in 2015, the sector has not been able to consolidate and farm gate prices have once again tumbled since the Commission made this announcement.

“The proposal by the Commission would increase Tunisia’s total duty-free TRQ to 91,700 tons, placing it on a par with the total production of a country like Portugal.”

Branding the proposal ‘ludicrous,’ Pesonen said it would also undermine efforts made by olive oil producers in Europe who have been working hard in recent times to improve the quality of their own produce.

“It is also unjustified when the EU still faces major difficulties entering, for example, the U.S. market due to red tape and non-tariff barriers to trade,” he adds.

“Furthermore, southern members states depend heavily on olive oil as a main source of income and this proposal would threaten growth and jobs in these regions where often no other source of employment exists.

“We also oppose the Commission’s proposal to eliminate the monthly management of import licenses. The current system did not stop Tunisian operators from filling the TRQ when they wished to do so.

“Without monthly management of import licenses, it is not possible to avoid high levels of imports during a short period of time, which could result in European prices collapsing during the rest of the marketing year.”

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