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Tomato exports cause heated debate around the approval of the EU–Morocco agricultural trade accord

11 March 2012

In the run-up to the vote on 16 February 2012 in the European Parliament on the Morocco–EU agricultural trade agreement, Spanish tomato farmers claimed that imports from Morocco were threatening the future of the tomato sector in the Malaga region. The value of tomato production in the Malaga region is now only a third of what it was in 2002, while the value of production fell 33% between 2010 and 2011 alone. Current price levels are seen as ‘unsustainable’. The fall in value was attributed to imports of ‘more than 61,000 tons of tomato between October and November [2011]’, a volume substantially in excess of the 38,000-tonne ceiling set on imports from Morocco for this period. This is seen by Spanish producers as a flagrant violation of the provisions of the agreement and described by them as ‘shameful’ and ‘scandalous’.

However, press commentary suggests that imports from Morocco were not the only factor behind the price declines, with the E. coli outbreak of mid 2012 impacting on consumer confidence and demand.

Nevertheless, Spanish farmers’ concerns gave rise to an appeal from EU farmers’ organisation Copa-Cogeca for MEPs to carefully assess the impact of the Morocco–EU trade deal prior to ratification, since it would introduce significant increases in import quotas for six sensitive products: tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers, garlic, citrus fruit and strawberries. Copa-Cogeca argued that the EU entry price system ‘does not take into account the higher production and labour costs prevailing in the EU’ and is largely ineffective. In addition, it was maintained that Moroccan producers do not have to meet the same environmental and quality standards that EU producers have to meet. Prior to the vote in the European Parliament on the agreement, Copa-Cogeca called on the EC to ‘work on the entry price system and manage the monthly quota properly’.

 In response to farmers’ concerns, Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş indicated that the EC would seek to improve import controls on tomatoes as part of the implementation of the CAP. This would involve strengthening the entry price mechanism which, it was acknowledged, ‘wasn’t effective’, according to a press report. Proposals are being developed to improve the calculation of the entry price and associated duties to make the system more effective.

On 16 February 2012, the European Parliament approved the EU–Morocco agreement, a move welcomed by the European Commission. The EC argued that the agreement ‘will create investment opportunities for EU companies and help to provide jobs in Morocco, therefore reducing the temptation to find better living opportunities abroad’. 

Editorial comment

Effective action to improve the operation of the entry price system could potentially bring benefits to ACP exporters by supporting EU market prices. The entry price system does not apply to ACP exporters, which would be left unaffected by any enhancement of enforcement controls.

This being stated, there is little overlap between the pattern of ACP horticultural exports and those of Morocco. However, any strengthening of the entry price system could potentially enhance the attractiveness of ACP countries as an investment location relative to non-ACP producers. 


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