Italy fears EU’s Tunisian olive oil ruling will help fakes thrive

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The EU has removed customs duty on Tunisian olive oil imports. Photo: Upsticksngo
15:42 CET+01:00
Italian producers have attacked an EU decision to remove customs duty on Tunisian olive oil, saying it threatens their livelihood and risks flooding Europe with fake oils.

Thursday's decision will see customs duty removed from 70,000 tonnes of Tunisian olive oil imports over the next two years as part of a plan to help the north African country's stricken economy.

But Italian farmer's association Coldiretti said the decision to remove the duty  - a tax normally applied to imports to defend home-grown industries – was bad news for consumers and producers of olive oil in Italy and beyond.

“It doesn't help Tunisian producers, harms Italian ones and increases the risk that consumers will be exposed to fraud,” said Coldiretti president Roberto Moncalvo.

Coldiretti fears the cheaply imported Tunisian oil could easily be mixed with Italian oil and falsely sold as 'Made in Italy' for a premium price on the international market.

This practice was shown to be widespread last year – during which Italian imports of Tunisian oil rose by 481 percent.

The huge increase was spurred on by a poor harvest in Italy due to extreme weather conditions in 2014 and the spread of the pathogen Xyella, which has decimated ancient olive groves in southern Puglia.

“The removal of taxes will only increase exports for Tunisian farmers by three percent. It's difficult to see how that is enough to benefit its rural economies,” Moncalvo added.

Despite the producers' distaste, the decision was approved by a large majority in Brussels on Thursday.

MEPs said the decision was aimed at  boosting Tunisia's economy, which has been damaged by several terrorist attacks since last year.

In the wake of the vote, Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told La Repubblica the decision was “a just compromise.”

“It will have minimal impact on the Italian and European economy. Supporting Tunisian democracy in a difficult moment is in the interest of the EU and Italy,” Mogherini added.

But other Italian politicians slammed the move.

“It's an embarrassment that Matteo Renzi's government has not opposed this,” said Tiziana Behin, an for the populist Five Star Movement.

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Matteo Salvini, the leader of the nationalistic Northern League, also branded the decision 'an embarrassment', saying he would defend Italian producers.


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