Industry groups are working for a legislative solution to close the trade loophole that has resulted in devastating consequences for olive growers in California. Current trade regulations have allowed a foreign-based company that acquired a stake in a U.S. processor to flood the market with product, undercutting California producers on prices.
“We asked that federally, that our members of Congress look at closing the loophole that allowed a foreign company to buy into a U.S. processor and gain control of an ownership share,” said Executive Director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau (TCFB) Tricia Stever Blattler. “Because we recognize that what can happen in this industry can certainly happen in others.”
After the European conglomerate Dcoop acquired a 20 percent ownership in Bell-Carter Foods the company was able to ship olives from Spain and Argentina to the U.S. for processing while sidestepping tariffs. The ability to acquire significantly cheaper olives has resulted in Bell-Carter Foods canceling contracts for approximately 4,400 acres of olives in California.
The cancellation of those contracts during an ‘on’ year for olives has left many in the industry wondering where to go from here. “Most growers that I’ve talked to at this point are just really uncertain of whether they will even continue to grow this year’s crop,” Stever Blattler said, highlighting the secondary impact of the contract cancellations. “We believe that potentially 1,500 members of the agricultural workforce would likely lose some of their earning potentials.”
TCFB is working to raise awareness of the issue with state and federal lawmakers to hopefully close the trade loophole that could have disastrous consequences for many U.S. agricultural industries if allowed to continue. “We would be concerned that other foreign interests could buy into agricultural processors like this and control market share in a manner that leverages cheaper grown products from other foreign countries and basically gives them the loophole to not pay those tariffs coming into the U.S. [for] processing, while putting American growers out of business,” Stever Blattler noted.
Listen to the interview below.