Tunisia expects surge in olive oil production to boost battered economy

Workers stand in front of crates of olives at a processing factory in Beni Hassen city. Tunisia expects olive production to jump by 160 percent in the 2017 season. (Reuters)
Updated 18 December 2017
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Tunisia expects surge in olive oil production to boost battered economy

BENI HASSEN: Trucks loaded with boxes full of olives were queueing at a press plant in this small Tunisian town as the North African country sees a surge in olive oil production in a badly-needed boost to its ailing economy.
Tunisia, one of the world’s top three olive oil producers, expects olive production to jump by 160 percent to between 1.5 million tons and 1.6 million tons in the 2017 season which started in November, the agriculture ministry said
That will translate into up to 280 million tons of olive oil, about 80 percent of which will be exported, helping to generate hard currency needed to stabilize its battered dinar.
Tunisia has been in economic crisis since a popular uprising in 2011 ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. The crisis has deepened as militant attacks took their toll on the tourism industry and weakened the dinar against hard currencies.
“It will be an exceptional (olive) season thanks to much better rainfall than last year,” said Hamdi Khalifa, owner of an olive oil press in Bani Hassen, one of the main production areas located a two-hour drive south of the capital Tunis.
His workers produce 90 tons of olive oil each day in the press compared to 40 tons a year ago, he said. Prices have shot up with 10 liters of oil now selling for 90 dinars.
Last year’s production had been hit hard by a drought.
The production boom has helped ease unemployment in rural areas with farmers complaining that they are struggling to find enough farmhands.
Some 135,000 workers were needed for this year’s season for up to three months, the agriculture ministry said in a statement.
“I’m paying now (workers) 35 dinars a day but its not easy to find workers,” said Sabri Barki, a farmer who owns 100 olive trees in the Bani Hassen area.
“Prices have gone up.”
The olive oil industry relies on 70 million olive trees that cover around 1.7 million hectares. They provide a living for at least 500,000 families in the North African country of 11 million.
It hopes that rising olive oil exports will help reduce its record trade deficit, which hit $4.61 billion in the first nine months of this year.
Last month, the agriculture ministry said Tunisia aimed to export about 220,000 tons of olive oil this season compared with about 75,000 tons last season that brought in $320 million.
World olive production is expected to rise by 14 percent to 2.9 million tons in the 2017/18 season with Tunisia posting the highest gain with a 120 percent rise, according to the International Olive Council, an industry body.
Top producer Spain, which has been hit by a severe drought this year, is expected to post a 15 percent drop in output.
The government has been tying to boost production with loans for farmers. Stability in Tunisia is a concern for the European Union as unemployment has driven young Tunisians into illegal migration and joining militant groups abroad.
— Reuters


US wins WTO ruling against China grain import quotas

Updated 19 April 2019
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US wins WTO ruling against China grain import quotas

GENEVA: The United States won a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling on Thursday against China’s use of tariff-rate quotas for rice, wheat and corn, which it successfully argued limited market access for US grain exports.
The case, lodged by the Obama administration in late 2016, marked the second US victory in as many months. It came amid US-China trade talks and on the heels of Washington clinching a WTO ruling on China’s price support for grains in March.
A WTO dispute panel ruled on Thursday that under the terms of its 2001 WTO accession, China’s administration of the tariff rate quotas (TRQs) as a whole violated its obligation to administer them on a “transparent, predictable and fair basis.”
TRQs are two-level tariffs, with a limited volume of imports allowed at the lower ‘in-quota’ tariff and subsequent imports charged an “out-of-quota” tariff, which is usually much higher.
The administration of state trading enterprises and non-state enterprises’ portions of TRQs are inconsistent with WTO rules, the panel said.
Australia, Brazil, India, and the European Union were among those reserving their rights in the dispute brought by the world’s largest grain exporter.
In a statement, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue welcomed the decision, saying China’s system “ultimately inhibits TRQs from filling, denying US farmers access to China’s market for grain.”
If China’s TRQs had been fully used, $3.5 billion worth of corn, wheat and rice would have been imported in 2015 alone, it said, citing US Department of Agriculture estimates.
The two WTO rulings would help American farmers “compete on a more level playing field,” the USTR statement said, adding: “The (Trump) Administration will continue to press China to promptly come into compliance with its WTO obligations.”
The latest WTO panel said that the United States had not proven all of its case, failing to show that China had violated its public notice obligation under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in respect to TRQs.
China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on Friday it “regrets” the panel’s decision and that it would “earnestly evaluate” the panel’s report.
China would “handle the matter appropriately in accordance with WTO dispute resolution procedures, actively safeguard the stability of the multilateral trading system and continue to administer the relevant agricultural import tariff quotas in compliance with WTO rules,” it said.
Either side can appeal the ruling within 60 days.