European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht

Importers will suffer unfair delays and costs if the proposed United States marketing order for olive oil is applied to them, European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht says.

Responding on behalf of the European Commission to a question in the European Parliament, the Belgian politician said the commission is monitoring debate on the possible marketing order, which “would impose a new standard definition, testing methods and labeling for olive oil in the US.”

“The US represents, by far, the EU’s most important export market for EU olive oil exporters. Should a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) marketing order apply to imported olive oil, this would create unfair delays and additional costs for importers” he said in a written response on November 20.

The Commission is working “in close cooperation with relevant Member States and the International Olive Council to support the interests of the EU exporters.”

“The issue has been raised several times with the relevant US authorities, including representatives of the House, the Senate, USDA and the US Trade Representative.

“This has also been raised at political level, in the framework of the transatlantic dialogue. The Commission will continue to monitor the debate with the aim of preventing any negative impact on the EU exports to the US” he said.

Several questions raised in European Parliament

De Gucht was replying to a written question last month from a Spanish member of the European Parliament, María Auxiliadora Correa Zamora, who asked what the EC plans to do about the threat of “non-tariff barriers” being imposed on EU olive oil exporters.

Similar questions have since been asked by other Members of Parliament, including fellow Spaniard Francisco Sosa Wagner, who on October 24 wrote that the marketing order proposals include “holding back the oil for days in order to test the entire product,” and would breach international trade rules.

“This measure would pose a risk to the quality, as well as add to costs and to other export problems” he said.

US a key market for Spain, Portugal

And in a November 12 question, Portuguese MEP Nuno Melo also called on the EC to act on “the possible restriction on olive oil imports that is being considered in the US through the publication of a marketing order.”

The US is one of the largest markets for Spain and the sixth largest for Portugal, which in the first eight months of 2012 shipped €2.9 million ($3.7m) worth of olive oil there.

“This restriction will particularly affect European exports, since it costs Europeans more to place their olive oil on the American market” he said.

Concerns about costs, retaliation

US Senator Charles E. Schumer, who has called on the US Department of Agriculture not to adopt the marketing order, said in May that it would add $7,000 in testing costs to each of (New York-based importer and bottler) Sovena’s shipments.

But in its report on the US Farm Bill, the US House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture said that if the change goes ahead, “the Committee expects the USDA, in conjunction with the US Trade Representative’s office, to ensure the marketing order is implemented in a manner that will not cause undue trade disruption.”

However, the report also included under “Additional Views” comments by committee members Chris Gibson, Tim Johnson and Randy Hultgren on their fears that “imposing a non-tariff trade barrier to imports of olive oil…will invite retaliation from the EU and others against US agricultural exports.”

The overdue US farm bill stalled in Congress before the recent election. If when eventually passed it includes a provision to include olive oil under the Agricultural Adjustment Act, then imports will also be subject to any national marketing order enforced by the USDA.

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