`Trade Commission Report a Good Read for New World Producers - Olive Oil Times

Trade Commission Report a Good Read for New World Producers

Sep. 17, 2013
Curtis Cord

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A text­book-long report by the United States International Trade Commission, Olive Oil: Conditions of Competition between U.S. and Major Foreign Supplier Industries, made for inter­est­ing week­end read­ing for many through­out the world whose liveli­hoods are syn­chro­nized by olive har­vests and could be impacted to some degree by the actions the report could spur.

The doc­u­ment, which was pre­pared at the request of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, exam­ines the com­plex global olive oil indus­try, and the con­di­tions con­fronting American olive oil pro­duc­ers who are rel­a­tive new­com­ers to an ancient trade with big stakes.

The major find­ings of the inves­ti­ga­tion were famil­iar to those in the olive oil busi­ness and read­ers of this pub­li­ca­tion: extra vir­gin” olive oil often isn’t; enforce­ment of cur­rent stan­dards is nonex­is­tent; stiffer stan­dards would help qual­ity pro­duc­ers; EU sub­si­dies sup­press prices; most con­sumers know noth­ing about olive oil.

Backing them up is a USITC inves­ti­ga­tion, which cost an aver­age of $2 mil­lion, cour­tesy of American tax­pay­ers, and per­haps the most thor­ough account­ing of the global olive oil trade ever in one place. Answering Congress’ request that it pro­vide hard data, the report is a trea­sure trove of facts and fig­ures that will be cited as evi­dence in for­mal com­plaints and trade actions some experts say could be com­ing next.

The report doc­u­ments, and gives sup­port to, the com­plaints aired by New World pro­duc­ers on four con­ti­nents weary of com­pet­ing with imports on a lop­sided field. And while the sit­u­a­tion has been reported for years around the world, this time it has the atten­tion of the United States Congress.

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Immediate reac­tions to the report within the olive oil indus­try were muted as many worked their way through the 282-page doc­u­ment and were not yet ready to com­ment, while oth­ers shrugged at the long­stand­ing real­i­ties of the inter­na­tional trade laid bare by inves­ti­ga­tors, and did­n’t find much to add.

After all, it would be hard to dis­pute the effect European sub­si­dies have on global prices, or that much of the olive oil sold at retail is mis­la­beled at the point of pur­chase. No one is step­ping up today to argue, for exam­ple, that the enforce­ment of stan­dards has been ade­quate, or that no bet­ter tests exist for authen­tic­ity than the cur­rent inter­na­tional norms.

It looks like the report largely cor­rob­o­rates the U.S. industry’s view of what’s hap­pen­ing,” Gregg Kelley, CEO of California Olive Ranch, said Friday. We’re hope­ful that this serves as an impe­tus to action.”

The recently-formed American Olive Oil Producers Association waited for the report last week with its fin­ger on the send” but­ton of a vic­tory-lap press release that found plenty in the doc­u­ment to its lik­ing. On the East Coast, the North American Olive Oil Association, rep­re­sent­ing the largest importers, found a way to con­clude the report’s calls to enforce indus­try stan­dards and edu­cate con­sumers are con­sis­tent with the long-stand­ing mis­sion of the NAOOA.”

The International Olive Council was not mak­ing any com­ments yet on the report, which referred to the Madrid-based orga­ni­za­tion nearly 300 times.

Paul Miller, who led the suc­cess­ful drive to adopt new stan­dards in Australia as pres­i­dent of the Australian Olive Association, said he was grate­ful for the com­pre­hen­sive analy­sis. To me the report under­scores the global nature of the prob­lems fac­ing the indus­try and pro­vides con­text for what must be a global effort to over­come them. Hopefully the time has come for effec­tive coop­er­a­tion.”

Alexandra Devarenne, an indus­try con­sul­tant in California, was pleased inves­ti­ga­tors rec­og­nized such dif­fer­en­ti­ated seg­ments” in the olive oil mar­ket. It shows that the pur­suit of qual­ity and unique­ness is an impor­tant strat­egy, and it’s good news for all qual­ity pro­duc­ers that dis­cern­ing con­sumers are focus­ing on fla­vor, ori­gin and other dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics,” said Devarenne.

Clear to just about any­one was that there will be changes com­ing to the busi­ness of pro­vid­ing olive oils for the increas­ingly health- and qual­ity-con­scious con­sumers in the world’s largest mar­ket.

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