AFI Association of Food Industries

AFI Serving the U.S. Food Import Sector

2020 NAOOA Report

Gabriel Estevez
Sovena USA

They say that bad things come in threes.

Last year, I was pleased to continue working with my fellow executive committee members: Bill Monroe from Pompeian, Marco DeCeglie from Salov, Francesc Sola from Borges (until his resignation late in 2019) — along with Bob Bauer (president) and Joseph R. Profaci (executive director). Early last year, Craig Grantham from Deoleo resigned his position on the board and I decided it would be best to fill that seat after holding an election at the NAOOA summer meeting in June. At the meeting, Don Griego, former chair, was elected to serve out the Craig’s term, bringing much-valued experience to bear. Late this year, upon Francesc’s resignation and at his suggestion, Francisco Cuenca from Borges was appointed to finish out Francesc’s term. I have to say that it’s been a pleasure to work with this group, since even though with very diverse and sometimes conflicting commercial interests, we always were able to handle each situation as a whole, a clear example of what association boards should do for current (and new) members facing critical and urgent subjects in their industry. 

But 2019 will be remembers as a year of unexpected challenges. First, not long after the last NAOOA report was distributed in last year’s edition of this publication, we learned that olive oil was on the list of E.U. agricultural products targeted for retaliatory tariffs flowing from the U.S. dispute with the E.U. over Airbus subsidies. Of course, olive oil was among hundreds of products targeted, probably all of which are represented in some fashion among AFI members. So we argued that olive oil should be considered “unique” because domestic producers in their best year could only meet roughly 5 percent of U.S. demand and because olive oil was the only product on the list consistently recommended by nutritionists and physicians for the treatment and prevention of chronic disease.

Although we believed the argument was compelling, apparently the USTR was not convinced. In October USTR imposed a 25-percent tariff on bottled olive oil from Spain. Of course, the situation for the industry at large would have been worse had all E.U. olive oil had been impacted, but as it is, the tariff on Spanish olive oil has been devasting to Spanish producers put at a disadvantage to producers in other countries and to U.S. importers whose business depends on Spanish imports.

Although this was not an election year in the U.S., the NAOOA was in for a November surprise. As I reported last year, we had made great progress in 2018 working to build collaborative relationships with leaders of the domestic industry for the establishment of a federal standard of identity among other projects. That work continued in 2019, as the NAOOA and representatives of the American Olive Oil Producers Association met with the FDA in June 2019 and then again in September, along with representatives of Deoleo (which had resigned in June and who had also attended the first meeting with FDA). A third meeting was pending for mid-November when at the beginning of November, AOOPA and Deoleo announced that they had jointly filed a petition for a standard of identity, excluding NAOOA from the process. Suddenly, Deoleo’s resignation started to make sense as a change of heart in the works for a while.

There is no doubt the filing of the petition by AOOPA/Deoleo will make it harder to achieve the goal of an standard of identity for olive oil but NAOOA will not be daunted. We immediately picked up the ball and in due course we plan to file our own petition—from an association representing far more volume than does this bi-head partnership. The very good news is that although it may now take longer, the FDA is engaged on the subject and cooperating with our efforts.

One positive public policy development worth mentioning, during the period of collaboration with the domestic industry, the NAOOA and representatives of AOOPA also met with USDA officials to discuss the establishment of a research and promotion order for olive oil. Although the recent falling out with AOOPA may make this project more challenging, work is continuing apace.

Throughout the year, the NAOOA also continued its efforts to fight fake news and again, the number of negative news stories in mainstream media declined in 2019. Key among our gains came in connection with the widely disseminated myth that you can’t cook with extra virgin olive oil. A publication in US News and World Report was probably the best placement we got on this subject from our public relations efforts. 

We’re looking forward to the year ahead and hope for continued progress toward achievement of our strategic objectives. 

Association of Food Industries: Serving the U.S. Food Import Trade Since 1906
3301 Route 66, Ste. 205, Bldg. C • Neptune, NJ 07753
(732) 922-3008 • Fax: (732) 922-3590 • •