European Parliament backs more duty-free olive oil imports to help Tunisia

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To help strengthen Tunisia’s economy, hit not least by 2015 terrorist attacks, MEPs backed emergency plans to allow an additional 70,000 tonnes of its virgin olive oil to be imported duty free in the EU, in 2016/17. However, MEPs also inserted requirements for the EU Commission to do a mid-term assessment of the effects of the measures, update them if it turns out that they harm EU olive oil producers, and ensure that the imports are tracked from start to finish.

The emergency quota was approved by 475 votes to 126, with 35 abstentions.

“Tunisia has come a long way since the Arab Spring, as one of the rare countries which has truly achieved a democratic transition. Tunisia has been a target of terrorist attacks precisely because it is on its way to consolidating its democracy. These attacks had an awful impact on the tourism sector and the wider economy at a time when Tunisians were already battling a tough economic crisis, with a high unemployment rate among young and educated people. This is why it is crucial that the EU should express its solidarity with the Tunisian people. We want Tunisia to succeed, and must help with concrete measures that boost its economy immediately.”, said rapporteur Marielle de Sarnez (ALDE, FR), in the debate before the vote.

More duty-free olive oil imports

MEPs backed the proposed two-year temporary zero-duty tariff quota of 35,000 tonnes per year (70,000 tonnes in total) for EU olive oil imports from Tunisia, available for 2016 and 2017. This will not increase the overall volume of imports from Tunisia (the EU will discount duties on the olive oil that Tunisia is already exporting to the EU).

To address the concerns of EU olive oil producers, MEPs inserted additional safeguards, such as a mid-term assessment and updating the measures if it turns out that they harm EU olive oil producers, a “tracking clause” obligation to ensure that all olive oil under the quota is obtained entirely in, and transported directly from, Tunisia. They also rejected the possibility of “contemplating” the extension of the emergency measure beyond the initial two years.

New trade deal

In a separate resolution, approved by 479 votes to 123, with 31 abstentions, MEPs welcome the free trade talks with Tunisia launched in October last year, and draw attention to economic difficulties faced by Tunisia, after terrorist attacks which led to the collapse of tourism in 2015. They advocate a “progressive and asymmetrical” agreement to “contribute to the stability of Tunisia, to the consolidation of its democracy and to the reinvigoration of its economy”.

Next steps

For emergency quotas: the text was sent back to the EP Trade committee to start trilogue negotiations with the Council on the final text.
For deep and comprehensive trade deal with Tunisia: talks were opened in October 2015.

Background for editors

Following the terrorist attacks of 18 March 2015 in Tunis and 26 June 2015 in Sousse, tourist arrivals in Tunisia dropped substantially, hitting the already struggling economy hard, and the EU Council announced that it wants to take exceptional and temporary measures to support the Tunisian economy.

The EU Commission proposed, as an emergency measure, to expand the duty-free quota for Tunisian olive oil imports by 35,000 tonnes annually, over a period of two years. Olive oil is Tunisia’s main agricultural export, and one-fifth of its total agricultural workforce depending on olive oil production

Under previous trade arrangements with the EU, Tunisia already enjoys a 56,700 tonne annual duty free quota for virgin olive oil. The EU imported a total of 145,200 tonnes of Tunisian olive oil in 2014/2015 (provisional data), 32,000 tonnes in 2013/2014, and 111,400 tonnes in 2012/2013.

The additional 35,000 tonne quota would apply once the regular annual quota is exhausted, which means keeping the olive oil imports within the current volume.

The EU is world’s leading producer, consumer and exporter of olive oil. In the last five years the EU produced 69%, consumed 57% and exported 65% of the world’s olive oil. The total amount of olive oil produced yearly in the EU is 1,430,800 tonnes. The biggest producers are Spain (835,000), Greece (300,000), and Italy (220,000).

Under the EU association agreement with Tunisia, the EU has not charged duties on its imports of Tunisian manufactured goods since 2008, but it does retain quotas for many fruits, vegetables and olive oil.

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