Greece sets target of doubling its olive oil exports by 2008

Greece, the world’s third-largest olive oil producer, wants to double exports of bottled oil within two years, eyeing mainly rising sales to China, the bottlers’ association chief said yesterday. With an annual production of around 300,000 tons, Greece exports half of that, the majority being bulk oil to foreign bottlers. Only about 15,000 tons of bottled Greek olive oil reaches foreign markets. Some 135,000 tons are sold in bulk and then bottled by producers in other countries, mainly in Italy. «We can do extremely better than that and we have set an aim of 30,000 tons of exported bottled olive oil by the 2008 Beijing Olympics,» SEVITEL President Gregory Antoniadis told Reuters in an interview. «China is a major new market for us.» Bottled olive oil is priced about 50 percent higher than bulk oil, which sells for between 4 and 4.50 euros per liter. Virgin market «China is a virgin market and our competitors in Spain and Italy are starting from the same point as we are,» he said. Spain, the world’s largest producer of olive oil, and Italy have an advantage over Greek exports in traditional export markets, such as the United States and Canada. But in China, Antoniadis said, Greek businesses could compete on an even playing field. «There we must use our advantage, which is the high quality of our product,» he said. Greece is the world’s biggest producer of extra virgin olive oil, which accounts for about 80 percent of its total production. «China has a familiarity with Greece and a Greek product there does not sound strange. Also ahead of the Beijing Games, we can play our Olympics card there for longer-term benefits.» The Greek government has launched an international campaign to increase exports, naming 2006 as the year of olive oil. Even Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, on a recent visit to China, aggressively promoted his country’s oil, getting the nickname «oil salesman.» «With this year being the year of olive oil, we have three good years ahead of us on which we can build all the way to the 2008 Beijing Olympics,» Antoniadis said. Greece’s 2006-7 harvest is expected to be some 10 percent less at around 270,000 tons due to crop rotation, which Antoniadis said is still a very good harvest. Asked whether new growing areas in Australia and the USA were putting Greek producers under threat, Antoniadis said he was more concerned about more olive trees springing up in Syria, Morocco and Tunisia. «It is this Mediterranean expansion which is more worrying. They are improving cultivation techniques and at some point they will become international competitors,» Antoniadis said.