Exclusive Interview with Luis Planas, Spanish Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

Exclusive Interview with Luis Planas, Spanish Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

2019/12/04 - "Walking among olive trees in Montoro". In this Cordovan municipality is where Luis Planas was when he was called by the President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, to offer him the Agriculture portfolio, which he took over in June 2018. "For me, agriculture, food and fishing are not only culture, they are my passion," he said the day of his designation. Nine months later, and in an exclusive interview with Mercacei, the Spanish Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food addresses the evolution of the olive sector, as well as issues of interest such as the Xylella fastidiosa and the verticilium, the Tasting Panel, the Brexit or the US Tariffs on the Spanish black olive.

Your political career has elapsed between Seville and representation positions in Brussels and abroad, being, in addition, Andalusian Minister of Agriculture on two occasions. Throughout all these years, how do you think the olive grove and olive sector has evolved?
I have closely followed the evolution of the olive sector. In recent years there has been a great development, both in cultivation systems and in the production of olive oils, which has made it, even more, a sector of great economic, social and commercial relevance for our country.

This success is the fruit of the efforts of olive growers and oil mills who have done a great job to modernize the sector and to bet on the technological improvement of the production process.

Spain concentrates the largest area of ​​olive groves in the world, with 2.5 million hectares and the largest number of olive trees, being the world's leading producer and exporter of olive oil. For this campaign it is estimated that the production of olive oil will be around 1.6 million tons, approximately 50% of world production.

I would like to emphasize that the sector as a whole has made an important commitment to the quality of its oils and to boost its sales. There is a significant amount of olive oils under Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or organic production. All this has had an impact on the sector becoming more competitive in the market and that the positioning of Spanish oils in international markets has been improved, which has allowed us to be at the forefront of exports.

These data show the importance of a sector with a constant demand for growth and, therefore, with a panorama full of new opportunities.

In terms of plant health, the presence of Xylella fastidiosa in our country worries producers and olive farmers. Do you think there is a risk of spread and what measures are necessary to fight against this bacterium?
The seriousness of the problem has to be assessed case by case, since, although it is said that the Xylella fastidiosa can affect a large number of plant species, there are differences between different subspecies of the bacteria, so that not all affect the same plant species or with the same level of aggressiveness.

The evolution of the pest in a territory may depend on the subspecies or strain concerned and its aggressiveness, the greater or lesser susceptibility of the vegetation present in the environment in which it is found, as well as the favorable climatology or the presence of insects capable of transmitting the disease.

Since the presence of the plague in Italy, the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture has been adopting measures to prevent the introduction and spread of this harmful bacteria in the national territory. We had to fight it while investigating it, with the difficulty that this entails.

Spain has actively participated in the first measures adopted at Community level, as well as in the elaboration of the "Execution Decision on measures to prevent the introduction and spread of Xylella fastidiosa within the European Union". This Decision involves coordination at Community level of the measures to be adopted.

In June 2015, the Spanish contingency plan was approved, designed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, advised by experts and in collaboration with the Autonomous Communities. The main objective of this plan is to prevent the introduction and spread of the bacteria in our country, including a national survey protocol for early detection and an eradication program that includes the measures to be taken in the outbreaks detected.

The contingency plan, which can be consulted on our website, is an important coordination tool that describes the relationships and responsibilities of all stakeholders for the sake of early detection, as well as when applying all the necessary measures for effective problem management.

The European Commission, which is the reference in the matter, has congratulated us for the efforts made in the fight against Xylella fastidiosa.

The United Kingdom is an essential market for Spanish agri-food exports and is especially important for products such as olive oil. How do you think Brexit can affect Spanish olive oil?
Currently, the United Kingdom is the fifth destination of our exports of olive oil with more than 43,000 tons, worth 135 million euros per year, and with a stable demand for the product. We are the leading exporter of olive oil to the United Kingdom with a market share of over 60%, a position achieved thanks to the quality and competitiveness of Spanish olive oil compared to other competitors.

As for the possible impacts of Brexit, it is difficult to know to what extent it will affect our exports of olive oil. But it is true that, whatever happens, the situation may not be the same as today, with the United Kingdom belonging to the European Union.

We believe that its consumption will not fall, since the United Kingdom is not a producer and olive oil has a great acceptance among consumers, who associates this product with the Mediterranean Diet and healthy eating habits. Although it is more difficult for us to export with a United Kingdom outside the European Union, we believe that trade flows will tend to continue, as our operators are more than used to export to almost every country in the world.

Regarding the United States, after tariffs imposed on the importation of table olives, there is a fear that this situation will be extended to olive oil...
The investigation process against the Spanish table olives is considered very worrying, not only because of the serious damage it causes to the sector, but also because the current European agricultural aid model of the CAP has been questioned, affecting the whole of the Community agricultural sector and, by extension, olive oil.

However, it must be taken into account that the initiation of the procedure was carried out due to the complaint filed by an association made up of the main Californian table olive producing industries, as a consequence of the lack of competitiveness of their productions, and that they wanted to use This procedure to reduce competitiveness to our sector and reduce its sales in the US market.

Therefore, the situation of olive oil, today, is different, given that the national production of the United States is very limited, its domestic consumption is stable and is mainly supplied by imports.

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