ECONOMY

‘Preserve peach exports’

As if bad weather and expected Chinese exports had not been bad enough, now come blows to the Greek peach preserve industry, which leads in exports across the world: The US has decided to impose added tariffs on this and other EU products, continuing an unofficial trade war with the continent’s bloc. Greece is therefore threatened with losing its lead in peach preserve exports, its sole product that tops a global export category. «The world dominance of Greek peach preserves was the outcome of our product’s high quality and competitiveness in price,» Costas Apostolou, president of the Greek Canners Association (EKE), told Kathimerini. Every year, between 17 and 20 million containers with boxes of high-quality preserves leave the «gold-bearing triangle,» marked by the prefectures of Pella, Imathia and Pieria, as well as Larissa, to travel to international markets. They represent as much as 60 percent of the sector’s global exports and bring more than 200 million euros to Greece’s economy. However, the freezing weather of 2003 forced the peach production in Macedonia and Thessaly to drop close to zero, allowing competitors, such as the Spanish, the Chileans, the Argentineans and the Americans, to openly threaten Greece’s domination. «They made a dynamic entry in the market and, combined with the fall of the dollar against the euro, rendered us very expensive,» Apostolou said. On top of all this, the US is now about to give it the finishing shot with an increase in duty imposed on many EU exports, including peach preserves, in response to the imposition of duty on American rice exported to the new EU members. US duty on peach preserves and other products will rise from 17 percent to 55 percent as of March 1. Following the 2003 calamity, Greek producers responded by increasing production to 270,000 tons last year, restoring order in the global export hierarchy. The blow had been bad, though, and the future seems anything but rosy after the additional duty by the US where, along with Canada, Japan, Mexico and Brazil, 40 percent of Greek exports were absorbed. Apostolou warned that Greek dominance is now under threat due to the euro-dollar relationship and the high production costs in Greece. «The duty will give the coup de grace,» he predicted. Pressure on Greek peach preserves not only comes from abroad. Apostolou admits that there is also a fall in the product’s quality, recorded as a result of changes in the ways peaches are grown: «Cultivation has now moved away from the producer’s care and into the hands of people who do not know or care about performance. Producers do not go to the fields anymore,» Apostolou explained. «Last summer, we could not find workers for our canneries, while we talk about unemployment. We informed the competent local bodies and called for the relaxation of procedures for workers’ short-term entry from neighboring countries,» he added. Greek exporters, along with the Spanish, are putting pressure on the EU to reach some compromise with the US on the issue of duty, so that the Latin American industry is not favored against the European, while it is very worrying that other countries importing Greek peach preserves, such as Brazil and Mexico, have also upped their tariffs. Add to this the threat of a Chinese sweep that is appearing clearly on the horizon. Last fall, the seventh conference of preserve producers from Europe and the Americas in Chile highlighted the danger of their being crushed by Chinese exports. China may certainly be the biggest peach producer in the world, but until now it cultivated varieties unsuitable for canning. It was stressed, however, that the Chinese have now started planting huge numbers of peach trees for canning purposes and are preparing for dynamic entry into the world markets of peach preserves, probably crushing their competitors. The effects of a possible big fall of peach preserve exports could be disastrous for the peach-producing regions of Macedonia, the economy of which is almost entirely dependent on this product. That is because the people involved are not just those who produce the peaches, but several thousand families. A thousand people work permanently at the 15 canneries, another thousand work for six to eight months per year and a further 12,000 as seasonal workers.