Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1384, (8 - 14 March 2018)
Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Issue 1384, (8 - 14 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Promoting Egyptian olives

Aisha Ghoneimy explains the importance of Egypt’s return to the International Olive Council and the bright future awaiting the country’s olives


Promoting Egyptian olives
Promoting Egyptian olives

Egypt will once again become a member of the International Olive Council (IOC) thanks to its ratification of the International Agreement on Olive Oil and Table Olives in January. Presidential Decree 560/2017, signed in Cairo on 8 January, will entitle Egypt to full membership of the IOC once the government has deposited an instrument of ratification with the UN in New York.

The IOC is an inter-governmental organisation established in Madrid in 1959 under the auspices of the United Nations. Egypt first joined it in 1964, but in 2017 its membership was revoked after it failed to sign an agreement on changes to standards of olive cultivation, production and trading. Thanks to renewed diplomatic efforts, it is once again about to become a member of the IOC.

The current IOC agreement was re-drafted by the UN Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Switzerland in 2015 and entered into force in January 2017 and is valid until December 2026. The original agreement was set up in 1955 and was revised in 1963, 1979, 1986 and 2005.

IOC member states are the leading international producers and exporters of olive oil and table olives, and they represent around 98 per cent of world olive production. They include Argentina, Algeria, the European Union, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Montenegro, Palestine, Tunisia, Turkey and Uruguay. In April 2017, Palestine joined the IOC.

The return of Egypt to the IOC was greatly welcomed during the visit of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri to Spain in mid-February, where the capital Madrid houses the council’s headquarters. During his visit, Shoukri presented Egypt’s endorsement of the International Agreement on Olive Oil and Table Olives to the director of the IOC.

There are considerable benefits that Egypt and other member states of the IOC can expect to garner from their membership of the council, notably in terms of cooperation in improving olive oil production, harvesting techniques, and technical assistance that promotes international trade as well as tackles any particular challenges.

Egypt plays a leading role in the development of the olive sector internationally, and it is one of the most prominent Mediterranean countries in the production of olive oil and one of the most effective actors in the international market for table olives. Egypt is now the second-biggest producer of olive oil in the world.

The Egyptian olive oil industry has also expanded in recent years. Egypt led the global production of olives by around 580,000 tons, constituting 20 per cent of global volumes, in 2017. Demand for exported Egyptian olive oil rose particularly after the floatation of the Egyptian pound in November 2016 as this rendered prices more competitive.

Egypt thus has a potentially very important olive oil industry, and it has been working on cultivating more than 100 million olive trees within the next five years as part of the government’s million feddans project to develop the country’s agricultural land. The development of the olive oil industry is also part of Egypt’s tripartite cooperation agreement with Cyprus and Greece.

Egypt’s renewed membership of the IOC is thus a crucial step towards promoting the cultivation, harvesting and industrialisation of olive oil production through improving the physical and chemical properties of the oil, notably for export. In addition to widening the opportunities for more competitive Egyptian exports generally, the membership of the council should result in wider beneficial economic and social returns.

The IOC plays an important role in global olive production, and it serves as a world forum for policy-making, discussing problems and concerns and finding channels to cope with current and future challenges to the industry, especially the mitigation of climate change.

Among the main goals of the IOC is encouraging international technical cooperation through conducting research and development projects and transferring advanced technologies from members that are highly advanced in olive cultivation, extraction and techniques of table olive processing to developing member states.

 It also fosters the international trade in olive oil by ensuring the highest international standards of quality among member states, promoting training activities in the olive products sector, and encouraging public-private partnerships in cultivating, producing and exporting olives and olive products.

It is vital that Egypt makes the most of the opportunities provided by the IOC in order to enable its olive and olive oil industry to contribute effectively to economic growth and sustainable development. Membership of the IOC will assist in achieving the highest possible quality of the country’s olive oil, help perfect production and harvesting techniques, and increase the competitiveness of Egyptian exports on the back of its comparative advantage in the field.

This will result in diminishing the country’s chronic current account deficit and thus help to achieve a surplus of balance of payments and increasing foreign reserves.

The writer is an economist at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University.

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