The European Union criticised the United States’ decision to impose higher tariffs on olives imported from Spain this week, saying the move is unjustified.
The decision, announced by the US Department of Commerce on Tuesday, is part of an escalating trade conflict between the US and several trading partners, including Europe, China, Japan and Canada.
Speaking at a news briefing in Brussels on Wednesday, European Commission spokesman Daniel Rosario said the decision was “simply unacceptable” and called the duties “prohibitive” and “unreasonably high.”
“This is a protectionist measure targeting a high quality and successful EU product popular with US consumers,” Rosario said. “Neither the substance of the decision nor the process that led to it are justified.”
Rosario added that the US decision still requires confirmation by the country’s International Trade Commission (ITC).
The US claims Spanish olive producers benefit from unfair subsidies that allow them to sell olives in the US for less than their fair value, which hurts olive producers in California. According to a statement issued by the US Department of Commerce on Tuesday, Spanish olives are sold in the US for around 17% to 25.5% less than their actual value. The US government said tariffs ranging from about 7.5% to 27% would be necessary to compensate for these prices.
The Commission spokesman said the tariffs on Spanish olive exports to the US – which totalled $67.6 million in 2017 – are already negatively impacting producers in Spain, particularly in the southern region of Andalusia.
Spain’s association of table olive exporters, ASEMESA, said that black olive exports to the US dropped from nearly seven million kilograms in the first quarter of 2017 to four million kilograms in the same period this year – a decline of 42.4%.
“It’s an unfair measure because it has no economic or technical basis and it’s worrying as it could call into question the rules governing international trade,” Spanish agriculture minister Luis Planas said on Wednesday. Planas added that he would discuss the issue with EU agriculture ministers at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, reports The Guardian.
Spanish olive producers have estimated that over the next five to ten years, the new tariffs could cost them between €350 million and €700 million.
In addition to hurting Spanish producers, the tariffs could also threaten the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP), Planas warned. He noted that Reyes Maroto, Spain’s minister of trade, industry and tourism, would also bring the matter up with the European trade commission.
“A unilateral action of this nature cannot go unanswered,” Planas said.
The European Union stands by Spain’s support for producers. In March, MEPs in Strasbourg passed a resolution saying the subsidies comply with World Trade Organisation rules.
The ITC is expected to make a final decision on 24 July. If the higher duties are confirmed, the European Commission has said it would consider taking additional action.