This next group of players in the impending international olive oil drama are the Mediterranean basin countries who collectively make up most of the world’s olive oil imports. These countries are under their own black cloud but are the main players in the black cloud that is hanging over the fledgling U.S. olive oil industry.
It’s hard for any of us to have missed all the recent drama in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: economies are collapsing; revolutions and civil unrest are spreading; and the traditional European Union subsidization of olive oil is coming to an end. In the case of ending subsidizations, I’ll believe it when I see it.
Mediterranean basin countries Spain, Italy, Greece, Tunisia, Turkey, Syria, Morocco, and Portugal (in that order) produce about 90% of the world’s olive oil. Those countries, which are members of the European Union (EU), have reaped the benefits of government subsidization that has kept their olive oil prices artificially high. The EU is broke and subsidies, no matter how lucrative for some of it’s members, are highly unpopular throughout the rest of the EU.
The other, non-EU countries, some of which are facing civil unrest, have had their olive oil production and prices propped up by wealthy individuals and powerful families. Some of those families are suffering a downturn in fortune as a result of the unrest, but there are others benefiting. A great example of this is the appointment of Habib Essid, who was Executive Director and Deputy Director at the International Olive Council (IOC) from 2004 to 2010. Essid was just appointed to the Cabinet-level position of Minister of Interior for the Government of Tunisia. Tunisia is the largest non-European Mediterranean olive oil producer and notorious for exporting inferior olive oil.
I used to live in Tunisia, which is a beautiful country, but their olive oil industry is run by about five families who aren’t too interested in quality as much as quantity. There is an enormous difference in the socio-economic levels between Tunisian country and city folk. In the country, the wealth is super concentrated in the vaults of the powerful olive oil families. There is little desire by these families to see things change. In other words, they want a lot of money for their oil, they want to maintain their super-cheap labor force, and they don’t care that their virgin oils don’t actually meet the standards of the IOC of which they are in positions of control. And like the rest of the countries who belong to the IOC they don’t care that the U.S. consumer has been paying a high price for inferior olive oil.
So, as a result of ongoing hard times for the member countries of the International Olive Council, the IOC countries have banded together to put a halt to the quickly expanding U.S. olive oil market. The IOC countries have a plan which they are attempting to implement, right now, in Washington, D.C. So why is California helping other states develop their olive oil industries? Because they need allies to fight the IOC. And why has California been extra attentive to Georgia? Because Georgia has something no other state has – political clout.
In the next article I will explain what the IOC is doing in Washington and what makes Georgia special to the developing U.S. olive oil industry.
May the sun shine through your branches.