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France wages ‘peach war’ on Spanish imports

France is stepping up cargo checks on trucks carrying fruit over the border from Spain in what is increasingly looking like a "peach war" between the European Union neighbours.

France wages 'peach war' on Spanish imports
A protester plants a French flag on peaches discharged from Spanish trucks. Photo: Raymond Roig/AFP

In the past two weeks, 150 trucks have been stopped and 10 infractions recorded, France's agriculture ministry said on Monday after talks with French fruit growers who have complained of what they see as unfair "dumping" of produce in their home market.

France's operation to make sure the trucks "respect the rules for the sale of fruit and vegetables" will continue in the coming weeks, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said after the meeting.

He added that the European Commission had been asked by France, Spain,Greece and Italy to consider putting in place "exceptional market-managing measures" in the sector.

The French fruit-growers' anger is boiling over amid fears that their industry is on the verge of disappearing entirely because of diving prices.

Farmland across France given over to growing peaches and nectarines has halved in size over the past decade.

Luc Barbier, head of the French fruitgrowers' federation FNPF, told AFP that the conflict between French and Spanish producers has never been so bad.

The Spanish counterparts are practising "trade dumping to kill the French market in order to be the only suppliers," he charged, calling for stepped-up border checks to verify the origin, quality and price of fruit cargos.

The head of the broader FNSEA farmers' federation, Xavier Beulin, said the problem went beyond peaches and nectarines.

He said the dispute also impacted farmers selling tomatoes, melons, cucumbers and strawberries.

"The core problem is the cost disparity with Spain which means we can't be competitive," he said.

Spain's FEPEX federation of fruitgrowers and exporters, though, denied the French accusations.

"The fruit crisis is affecting all European producers," it said, slamming recent attacks on Spanish trucks.

FEPEX also called on the European Union to take urgent steps to support the fruit market, underlining the importance of the fruit sector to Spain's economy.

Last year, Spain exported 910,000 tonnes of fruit with stones (peaches and the like), bringing in nearly one billion euros ($1.3 billion).

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FARMING

WTO rules US tariffs on Spanish olives breach rules

A US decision to slap steep import duties on Spanish olives over claims they benefited from subsidies constituted a violation of international trade rules, the World Trade Organisation ruled Friday.

WTO rules US tariffs on Spanish olives breach rules
Farmers had just begun harvesting olives in southern Spain when former US President Donald Trump soured the mood with the tariffs' announcement. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

Former US president Donald Trump’s administration slapped extra tariffs on Spain’s iconic agricultural export in 2018, considering their olives were subsidised and being dumped on the US market at prices below their real value.

The combined rates of the anti-subsidy and anti-dumping duties go as high as 44 percent.

The European Commission, which handles trade policy for the 27 EU states, said the move was unacceptable and turned to the WTO, where a panel of experts was appointed to examine the case.

In Friday’s ruling, the WTO panel agreed with the EU’s argument that the anti-subsidy duties were illegal.

But it did not support its stance that the US anti-dumping duties violated international trade rules.

The panel said it “recommended that the United States bring its measures into conformity with its obligations”.

EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis hailed the ruling, pointing out that the US duties “severely hit Spanish olive producers.”

Demonstrators take part in a 2019 protest in Madrid, called by the olive sector
Demonstrators take part in a 2019 protest in Madrid called by the olive sector to denounce low prices of olive oil and the 25 percent tariff that Spanish olives and olive oil faced in the United States. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)
 

“We now expect the US to take the appropriate steps to implement the WTO ruling, so that exports of ripe olives from Spain to the US can resume under normal conditions,” he said.

The European Commission charges that Spain’s exports of ripe olives to the United States, which previously raked in €67 million ($75.6 million) annually, have shrunk by nearly 60 percent since the duties were imposed.

The office of the US Trade Representative in Washington did not immediately comment on the ruling.

According to WTO rules, the parties have 60 days to file for an appeal.

If the United States does file an appeal though, it would basically amount to a veto of the ruling.

That is because the WTO Appellate Body — also known as the supreme court of world trade — stopped functioning in late 2019 after Washington blocked the appointment of new judges.

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