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International trade

Donald Trump targets Spanish olives in trade dispute

US Department of Commerce believes iconic product may benefit from unfair subsidies

The protectionist administration of US President Donald Trump has a new target in its sights: the Spanish olive. On Thursday, the Department of Commerce announced it would investigate imports of ripe olives produced in Spain to determine whether they benefit from unfair subsidies which allow them to be sold below market price on the other side of the Atlantic.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. EFE

If that is found to be the case, duties could be slapped on imports of the fruit.

In a press statement, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said “a full and fair assessment of the facts” would be carried out. But he warned that if rules are being broken, his department “will act swiftly to halt any unfair trade practices.”

The United States imported Spanish olives to an estimated value of $71 million in 2016

The United States is committed to a free, fair and reciprocal trade with Spain,” the statement reads.

The investigation into imports of Spanish olives comes in the wake of a petition filed in June by a California-based group calling itself the Coalition for Fair Trade in Ripe Olives, which represents the interests of companies including Musco Family Olive and Bell-Carter Foods. Those companies say Spanish olives undercut US olive prices because they enjoy subsidies.

The anti-dumping investigation comes at a time when Spanish olive producers are engaged in a serious promotional push into the US market, with US-based Spanish chef José Andrés as their ambassador. Andrés became embroiled in a bitter legal dispute with Trump after he pulled out of a contract to open a gourmet restaurant in the five-star Trump International Washington D.C. hotel, following attacks made by the then-Republican candidate on Mexican immigrants. The two have since buried the legal hatchet.

The olive industry is crucial to the economy of southern Spain's Andalusia region.
The olive industry is crucial to the economy of southern Spain's Andalusia region.

Concurrent with the Department of Commerce investigation, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) will look into whether the US olive industry and its workers have suffered harm because of subsidized imports of ripe Spanish olives.

The ITC will deliver its preliminary findings by August 7. If it finds that the US olive industry has been harmed, the commerce department will push ahead with its own investigation and hand in its own preliminary findings in November.

If the commerce department finds that Spanish olives do benefit unfairly from subsidies, they will be hit with a duty designed to level the trade playing field.

The United States imported Spanish ripe olives to an estimated value of nearly $71 million in 2016, according to US authorities.

In March, the US Department of Commerce kick-started an anti-dumping campaign with a review of all US imports as part of Trump’s bid to protect local jobs. Washington aims to toughen up compliance with trade deals and the commerce secretary has been handed greater powers to carry out his duties.

English version by George Mills.

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