Delegates and observers from the International Olive Council and other olive-oil-producing nations gathered at the Palace of San Martín in Buenos Aires recently to discuss the prospects of the olive sector in the Americas.
The biggest challenge this sector faces is strengthening the presence of our olive oil and table olives in international markets.
Delegates from South American nations, specifically Argentina, took center stage at the event, which followed a week of meetings for the 107th session for the IOC’s Council of Members. Among the numerous topics being discussed — including production, exports and quality — the idea of an Olive Coordination Board for the Americas caused a stir of excitement.
“We have a shared interest in and vision for olive oil production across the Americas,” María Cavero Romaña, a director of Pro Oliva in Peru, said. She posited that this hypothetical organization would serve a similar purpose to that of the IOC, but specifically for South American countries.
The idea was met with enthusiasm by Mercedes Nimo, the National Director of Food and Beverages and Bio-economy at Argentina’s Ministry of Agro Industry. She said it was an interesting idea since South American producers all have similar problems, goals and views of the sector. The proposal has yet to be formally drafted or discussed but could be a crucial step in the development of the South American olive oil sector.
While she addressed the audience, Nimo emphasized the growing importance of agro-industries, especially olive oil, on the continent. For her, expanding market share and increasing cooperation between the public and private sectors are both keys for growing the sector.
“The biggest challenge this sector faces is strengthening the presence of our olive oil and table olives in international markets,” she said. “We need to understand the needs of olive oil producers and the state must provide solutions.”
Nimo praised the cooperation that is already going on and pointed out that the government and private sector’s joint influence on increasing quality has been working. Last year, Argentina launched a “Made in Argentina” campaign, offering rebates on import duties for Argentine agricultural exporters who achieved the quality and sustainability standards set by the initiative.
“More than one year into the campaign and we have seen a significant improvement of olive oil quality,” she said. “This emphasis on improving quality has increased our olive oil’s positioning in the world.”
Another way in which Argentina is improving quality is by cracking down on fraud. Extra virgin and virgin olive oil quality standards have largely not been codified into law in Argentina. But that is changing.
“We are making efforts to update regulatory efforts for olive oil,” Nimo said. Argentina is not alone. Delegates from both Chile and Brazil said that their countries were working hard to improve government regulations pertaining to quality standards as well.
“As of 2014, the Ministry of Agriculture started demanding olive oil producers follow certain parameters,” Fabio Florêncio Fernandes, the Director for the Inspection of Plant Products at Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, said. Since then, Brazil has invested in three laboratories to test olive oil and requires all producers to provide samples.
All olive oil exports now leaving Brazil are required to meet the government’s new minimum olive oil standards and receive a certificate of origin. The consequences of failing to do so are stark, Florêncio Fernandes warned.
“Those [producers who] do not comply will have their products seized and the company must pay a fine,” he said. “The Ministry now checks and verifies the origin of all olive oil products that are both exported and imported. We are also working with the federal police to do so.”
Part of the solution, Florêncio Fernandes said, is working closely with the Spanish and Portuguese companies that are exporting olive oil to Brazil and making sure they are in compliance.
The other part of the solution is tough enforcement. In 2016, the Brazilian government began a quality control campaign — codename Operation Father Christmas. Federal police across 27 states collected 480 bottles of olive oil from 164 different brands. About 10 percent were found to be fraudulent or noncompliant.
The results of the raid were published on the Ministry of Agriculture’s website in an effort to name and shame those producers who had failed to meet the quality standards.
Meanwhile, Javiera Pefaur Lepe, who among other things is an industrial crops specialist for the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture, admitted that there are no legal quality standards for extra virgin or virgin olive oil in Chile. At the moment, the Ministry of Agriculture is working on developing voluntary standards and from their creating legal standards.
“We are developing quality standards that are voluntary, but it is a first step for the sector,” Pefaur Lepe said. “We believe this will be a useful first step for the creation of a law, which would be mandatory.”
In order to create effective legislation, she believes that the public and private sectors must continue to work together. She pointed to the progress that the Chilean olive oil sector has made when the two work together.
“There is strong growth in Chilean olive oil production capacity,” she said. “For a country as small as ours, this growth is commendable.”
While efforts to improve quality continue, Chilean producers continue to make the sector increasingly efficient and establish and maintain new export markets. In doing so, she believes Chile will soon be able to compete with larger and more established olive oil producers.
“Chile’s large number of free trade agreements allow our olive oil producers to enter many markets,” Pefaur Lepe said. “We seek to continue to access new markets and maintain our presence in already established markets.”
Ultimately, Nimo believes that Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Peru cannot grow their sectors in isolation. As European countries have done, she believes South American countries will need to work together to foster the growth of the sector across the continent.
“South American producers must work together and with the IOC to inform consumers and promote policies to grow our respective olive oil production sectors internationally,” she said. “This is the spirit with which we want to promote Argentine and the rest our continent’s olive oil production.”