Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I want to thank the International Olive Council and in particular its current Chair, Georgia, for inviting me to give a speech on this International Olive Day.
As you know, olives and olive oil have a prominent place in Europe.
They are part of our history and cultural heritage and a key agricultural production for European countries in the Mediterranean region. They support their rural communities and are perfectly adapted to their agronomic conditions.
It is also a resilient sector, providing consumers in Europe and over the world with a healthy, safe and sustainable product. In 2020, while the COVID pandemic was hitting hard our populations and our economies, olive oil consumption significantly increased, as consumers turned to healthy and high quality products.
The European Union is proud of its olive sector and proud of its products. Thanks to the constant care and the hard work of our farmers and our stakeholders in the sector, the European Union is, with more than 2 million tonnes per year, the first producer of olive oil in the world, as well as the first consumer.
The EU is also proud to be part of the International Olive Council. It allows us to share with other countries a common interest to establish a fair level playing field. It also allows a smooth development of international trade while assuring the protection of consumers' interests around the world.
Thanks to the work carried out by the Executive Secretariat of the IOC, the IOC family welcomed new members, hence promoting this common vision and standards. I am confident that new members will join in time, including those where consumer demand has significantly increased in recent years.
Many IOC members are currently modernising, restructuring and expanding their olive oil sector. The role of IOC in accompanying these developments is important; however, even more importantly the IOC needs to continue work on common standards to facilitate and increase international trade.
Over the last years, the IOC Secretariat as well as Council members have been active in pursuing that objective, especially in the Codex Alimentarius. Recently, significant progress has been made, which paves the way for a greater harmonisation.
We are proud, but we are also aware of our responsibilities.
In collaboration with the International Olive Council, the EU is constantly working in order to promote and improve the quality of our olive oils and table olives. This is done through the development of marketing standards, stricter controls and more coordination with other producing countries.
In this respect, I would like to emphasise the work of the IOC on methods of analyses. These are essential to support control authorities and producers in combatting fraud, to preserve the reputation of olive oil and to ensure that both, our producers' and our consumers' interests are respected.
I do not want to conclude without adding some words of the new strategies adopted recently at European level: the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy.
Together with the reformed Common Agricultural Policy, the actions adopted under these strategies will address some of the biggest challenges faced by the European agricultural sector. They will combine social, economic, and environmental approaches in order to achieve a sustainable, robust and resilient agriculture. An agriculture able, at all times, to ensure that everyone has access to sufficient, nutritious and safe food.
I am sure that olive oil and olive production will play an important role in the context of these initiatives, as the sector is ideally placed to respond to the three aspects of sustainability I have just mentioned.
Right now, the European Commission is revising its marketing standards for olive oil (as well as for other agricultural products). The aim is to modernise them, bring them more in line with consumers' expectations and fulfil new objectives, such as sustainability.
We will be happy to share these future developments with the IOC community.
Once again, let me thank you for the invitation to this official ceremony of the International Olive Day.
You can continue to count on the support and the commitment of the European Union to the International Olive Council in the years to come, promoting a common approach to standards and in any other topic of common interest.