A harvester at California Olive Ranch

Spanish olive oil producers are up in arms over the “unfair” and “absurd” marketing order being considered in the United States Congress they fear would place heavy restrictions on the importation of olive oils, according to La Rioja.

The United States, which imports more olive oil than any country in the world, purchased a total of 61,470 tons from Spain in 2011. The top oil-producing state of California pumps out approximately 10,000 tons annually — a figure dwarfed in comparison to the 276,000 tons imported each year, mostly from Spain and Italy– but producers in the Golden State have ambitions to produce much more than that.

The marketing order was first presented last January at a conference in Dixon, California and has since become a hot issue in the industry. California producers say the marketing order could reduce the amount of poorly labeled and substandard olive oils arriving from overseas, leveling the playing field for local producers to compete with imported olive oils.

Meanwhile, the North American Olive Oil Association, comprised of major importers and distributors, called the new initiative “an attempt to restrict trade by completely eliminating several categories of olive oil, while also imposing rejected test methods on the industry.”

Gregorio López, head of the olive sector at Spain’s Coordinator of Agricultural and Livestock Organizations (COAG), said the steps being taken by the United States are, “out of character” and an “abuse” that has put olive oil producers “on alert.”

López said the organization is wary that the proposed restrictions, which include enforcing 100 percent quality control of incoming products (currently only 5 percent is analyzed) and stricter olive oil labeling standards, will result in Spanish olive oils being “held up at customs.”

“We must sit down with the Americans to see what they are doing. We must act with speed and agility and lay ground rules so that producers are not harmed.” López said.

Other industry representatives in Spain pointed out that although the issue has been ongoing for months, it is just now heating up on the eve of a close election in which President Barack Obama needs to pick up votes in California.

Jaime Garcia-Legaz

Though a decision has yet to be made, Spain’s Minister of Commerce Jaime Garcia-Legaz has been monitoring the issue closely to protect the best interests of olive oil producers who have suffered major losses in recent years.

In March, Garcia-Legaz traveled to Washington where he met with USDA Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Edward Avalos and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro to discuss Spain’s position on the matter.

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