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Baltimore's Pompeian joins olive oil industry to protest tariffs on European imports

Baltimore's Pompeian joins olive oil industry to protest tariffs on European imports
A worker at Pompeian Olive Oil Co. in Baltimore holds a bottle of Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil in this 2015 file photo. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Pompeian, a Baltimore-based olive oil company, is joining the industry in protesting tariffs on imported olive oil from Europe.

In addition to its trade fights with China and Mexico, the Trump administration in April proposed additional tariffs on $11 billion worth of products imported from the European Union, including olive oil, wine, textiles, leather handbags and glassware among several hundred items.

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The proposal by the U.S. Trade Representative comes amid an ongoing dispute with the EU over subsidies given to Airbus and as additional taxes have been proposed or newly imposed on goods from China and Mexico.

Pompeian, based in Baltimore since 1906, says the European Union proposal will hurt U.S. jobs as well as the global food, health and beauty industries. Pompeian’s sales and growth could suffer, the company said.

“Tariffs on bulk olive oil would cause substantial financial harm to Pompeian’s business and would complicate and halt our ability to invest in new production facilities and to hire more people,” said Bill Monroe, a Pompeian board adviser and former CEO, in an email. “Tariffs on EU-origin bulk-imported olive oil would inevitably increase the price that US consumers will pay, which will result in a decrease of consumption … Any increase in pricing will have an impact on the growth of the business.”

The company is backing efforts of the North American Olive Oil Association to prevent tariffs on any type of olive oil.

Tariffs on olive oil likely would prompt consumers and manufacturers to substitute less expensive seed oils, Monroe said. A drop in consumer demand could pressure retailers to reduce shelf space for olive oil and hurt sales across the board, he said.

The domestically produced olive oil fulfills at most 5% of total U.S. demand for olive oil. Pompeian imports olive oil from around the world and bottles it in factories in Baltimore and in Montebello, Calif., to distribute in all 50 states. During the past year, the company imported 50,000 metric tons of olive oil, with more than half from European Union countries, primarily Spain.

“Spain produces more than 40% of the total world production, so tariffs on EU-origin olive oil would restrict our sourcing options, limit our access to good quality oils and make us less competitive,” Monroe said.

Pompeian employs 175 people in Baltimore and California, with more than 130 full-time workers in Baltimore. The company has invested $3 million to $5 million per year in its facilities and infrastructure since 2010, including a new port facility, a headquarters chemistry lab and an olive oil storage tank farm in Baltimore, said Mouna Aissaoui, Pompeian’s chief operating officer and executive vice president.

Besides its use in the food industry, olive oil is used in lotions, cleansing oils, makeup removers, shampoos, and other health and beauty products.

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