The Tunisian olive oil sector is flourishing and showcasing staggering growth notably due to the European Union’s decision to waive taxes on Tunisian oil imports and grant substantial financial help to the country. The sector is also benefiting from the global, ever-growing demand.
Exceptional times call for exceptional measures.
The EU measure on Tunisian olive oil imports followed the terror attack on the beach resort of Sousse last year, which left thirty-eight people dead. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, justified the decision, stating: “Exceptional times call for exceptional measures.”
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Tunisia remains one of the Europe’s most important allies in the Arab world, strategically speaking, and even more so since the Jasmine Revolution. The civil resistance movement that started on December 17, 2010 after Muhammad Bouazizi, a vegetables and fruit itinerant seller who set himself on fire after local authorities confiscated his cart and abused him verbally and physically, quickly snowballed into a bigger revolution which led to the ousting of then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali twenty-eight days later.
The country has since been transitioning to a democracy through structural changes. Such events greatly affected the nation’s economy and geopolitics and the European Union has remained vigilant over Tunisia’s evolution.
Moreover, the terror attack of Sousse and another that hit the Bardo Museum of Tunis have severely impacted Tunisia’s tourism sector, making the country even more dependent on olive oil exports. The terrorist threat in North Africa has been increasing in the past few years, worrying Tunisia’s economic partners even more.
The EU seeks to make it a privileged partner in the Arab world with hopes that it will help stabilize the country. As a result, the European Union eased restrictions on Tunisian olive oil imports since last spring.
Thirty-five thousand tons of Tunisian olive oil have been exported to the European Union in the past two years, tax-free and billions have been spent by the EU since the Jasmine Revolution in order to boost the Tunisian economy; the financial help might reach €300 million per year soon.
Nearly three percent of the population works in the olive oil sector, a whopping figure that shows Tunisia’s strong dependence on oil exports. The EU measure represents a golden opportunity for Tunisian growers, but a direct threat to their European counterparts.
Many Italian olive growers have been vocal about their opposition to the EU’s financial moves, a paradoxical stance considering the number of firms that make high profits blending Tunisian olive oil with their own and labeling it “Made in Italy.”
Tunisia’s olive oil economy is booming to unprecedented levels. It exported 20,000 tons of olive oil in 2015 compared to just 400 tons ten years ago, a gleaming trend that shows no sign of slowing down.