By Vahap Munyar,
Recent days have witnessed a debate between Turkish olive oil exporters and non-refined olive oil producers regarding imports. Non-refined oil producers oppose the exporters, who want to import cheap Spanish olive oil and export it under their own brand names. Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TİM) President Oğuz Satıcı tried to reconcile the two parties by offering special bottling for the Turkish olive oil project
Olive rich Mediterranean country Turkey has been unable to turn its olive oil into a global brand name. This has become a sensitive issue for Turkish olive oil producers and exporters. President of Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TİM), Oğuz Satıcı, has come up with a new project called “special bottling for Turkish olive oil,” which he hopes will make Turkish olive oil recognizable to consumers worldwide.
Yet, the olive oil industry has been experiencing another heated debate. As the effects of global warming were strongly felt this year in Turkey’s agriculture sector, olive yield was low as well. This in turn, resulted in a hike in the price of non-refined olive oil prompting Turkish olive oil exporters to request permission to import non-refined olive oil and refine it domestically, a move opposed by some in the industry.
While the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TİM) and Turkey Bottling and Glass Factories prepare to promote Turkish olive oil in the world using designer bottles, the sector has been witnessing a heated debate over import demands. The debate has become even more heated with the sides involved calling the other “traitor” and “hot-air nationalists.”
Head of Aegean Olive and Olive Oil Exporters’ Association Nedim Güreli said: “In order for us not to lose our place on supermarket shelves abroad that carry brand-name products, we would like to be allowed to import non-refined olive oil, and refine it domestically. But they accuse us of being traitors.”
TİM President Oğuz Satıcı said a special bottle will be designed for Turkish olive oil. He also supported Güreli, calling on members of the sector “not to impede exports with hot-air nationalism.”
Debate mars festival
The First Aydın Olive and Olive Oil Festival was organized by the Aegean Olive and Olive Oil Exporters’ Association, Aydın Commerce and Industry Chambers, Commerce Stock Exchange, and Friends of Olive Association (Zeytindostu Derneği) in the Aegean olive-growing city of Aydın. The festival was marred by the debate caused by a demand by exporters to allow olive oil imports.
Güreli, leading one side said: “We have even paid the rent for the shelves that carry brand-name products in the United States and European markets. However, the olive yield this year is very low. Because of this our price for non-refined olive oil has exceeded prices in Spain and Italy. Let us import non-refined olive oil from those countries. We can then bottle and export them. Otherwise, we will lose our hard-earned export market.”
However, Turkish olive and non-refined olive oil producers opposed this, and said: “They will flood us with state subsidized Spanish and Italian oil. This is treason.”
This is not importing
Güreli and Satıcı said imports that will be undertaken for the purpose of domestic refining should not be confused with common imports. Güreli said: “Depending on the region, the price of non-refined olive oil ranges between YTL 4.50 and YTL 6. In Spain, the price of non-refined olive oil does not exceed YTL 4.10. How can I export when I have to buy more expensive non-refined olive oil, process it, bottle it, and suffer a blow due to the low exchange rate? How can we compete with Spain and Italy with these prices? Let us import non-refined olive oil from Spain for domestic refining purposes. Let us bottle and export it. As this product will never enter the domestic market, it cannot be considered importing.”
Let us reverse the situation
Satıcı said: “We would usually export non-refined olive oil and Spain and Italy would buy it, and then sell it at two or three times the amount they purchased it for. And we would lament that,” and added, “we can reverse the situation now, as it is possible to import cheaper olive oil from Spain. If the door to import it for domestic refining is opened, we can create added value on the Spanish oil and earn money.”
Aydın Commerce Stock Exchange President Aydın Ağababaoğlu said the number of olive trees in Turkey have been increasing and currently number 150 million. He expected the number to reach 200 million soon. He said: “If we cannot turn our export level into a sustainable state, we cannot find a market to sell the products yielded by the 200 million trees. We need to allow exporters to domestically refine the oil when necessary, in order to maintain our markets and develop them further.”
Aydın is the leading Turkish city
Aydın Governor Mustafa Malay said Aydın had the most number of olive trees in Turkey. According to the information on a booklet distributed at the First Aydın Olive and Olive Oil Festival, 37 countries around the world grow olives for industrial purposes. About 95 percent of the total olive production in the world is located in the Mediterranean. Six Mediterranean countries that include Turkey produce 86 percent of the 13 million tons of annual olive yield.
In Turkey, 595,000 hectares of land is allocated to growing olives. This constitutes 2 percent of Turkey’s agricultural lands. Aydın is the leading city in growing the most olives with 23 percent of all olive trees in Turkey.
The world should be able to recognize Turkish olive oil by its bottle
Turkey Bottling and Glass Factories General Manager Doğan Arıkan explained the project to create designer bottling for Turkish olive oil. He said: “We are working on the project. We do not find producing a different bottle for each olive oil brand profitable. When the scales remain small, we cannot make custom-made products as such. However, if we can produce three or four bottles specially designed for Turkish olive oil brands, we can mass-produce them. For example, if one sees these bottles in a supermarket in the United States, one should be able to tell it contains Turkish olive oil. We will discuss the issue with exporters, the olive oil sector, and designers. We will develop this project.”
Do not sway the sword to only one side
Madra is an established olive oil brand name from Ayvalık, a northern Aegean city famous for its olive oil. Its owner, Sezai Madra, said he was against importing olive oil from Spain, even for domestic refining. He said: “Currently there are barriers in front of our ability to export non-refined olive oil. If imports of crude olive oil is allowed without first lifting these barriers, then our prices will plummet. This would be swinging the sword to one side only. If you will be using the sword anyway, let it work both ways. Let us export non-refined olive oil freely. And then those willing can import for the purpose of domestic refining.”
Let’s not repeat our mistake
Parliament’s Agricultural Commission Member and Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy, Ahmet Ertürk, said they have seen cases of products imported for the purpose of adding value domestically enter the local Turkish market. He cited milk powder as an example and explained his concerns that the same risk would hold true for olive oil. Ertürk said: “The milk powder that was imported for adding value domestically was supposed to be used to make chocolate, which would in turn be exported. However, it was introduced to the domestic market. I see that the same risk is true for olive oil. I have in fact relayed my opinion on the issue to State Minister Kürşad Tüzmen and Industry Minister Zafer Çağlayan.”
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