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Andalusian olive industry hopeful of recovering American market now that tariffs have been suspended

The olive harvest.
The olive harvest. / Óscar Chamorro
  • Joe Biden has calmed the trade war with the European Union and the agri-food sector is looking forward to increasing its exports

The news came unexpectedly, late last Friday. A phone conversation between the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the new president of the United States, Joe Biden, signified an end to the trade war in which both sides had been involved since October 2019, when Donald Trump decided to impose a 25% tariff on certain imports from Europe as a form of punishment. This included olive oil which was bottled in Spain, olives, cheese and wine. It was a devastating blow. Now, with the tariffs provisionally removed for four months, a symbol of a new beginning in trade relations between the EU and USA, there is hope that the Malaga olive industry will be able to recuperate this lost market as soon as possible.

"A 25 per cent tariff was unsustainable, for the oil and the olives. We were practically removed from the market," says Esteban Carneros, director of corporate relations at the DCOOP cooperative.

DCOOP was able to avoid this tariff itself because it has bottling plants in the EU, but said at the time that the move was unfair. Carneros says this latest move was unexpected, because Biden was expected to maintain the measure imposed by his predecessor. "It is a significant advance. Now we're all hoping the tariffs will be abolished permanently, but anyway this is a new opportunity," says Carneros.

The gesture has also been welcomed with open arms by small producers. Perfecto Matas, who runs Hacienda de Colchado, a 400-hectare estate in Cartaojal (Antequera), is an example. After launching his premium brand olive oil under the Legado label, he managed to get the first bottles on the shelves of American supermarkets in 2016. It costs a lot to open doors in the USA. Just as he began to see a profit, the tariffs were applied and he had to withdraw from the American market. Now he plans to return. "I already have the contacts," he says. "The quality of the product was never in doubt and now the price will be competitive again".

The US is the tenth highest consumer of olive oil in the world, and the trend is rising. In 2020, for the first time, consumption crossed the barrier of 400,000 tonnes.