Bitter situation for sweet almond producers

Bitter situation for sweet almond producers
Bitter situation for sweet almond producers

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There are three local producers to testify to Médias24 about the weakening of national production of sweet almonds. According to them, the massive importation of American almonds is to blame. They warn of possible uprooting of almond trees and call for the urgent application of safeguard measures.

“Currently we are living an alarming situation at the level of sweet almonds. Buyers are completely losing interest in Moroccan almonds given that there have been massive imports of American almonds. The volume increased 15-fold while the imported amounts increased 11-fold from 2018 to 2023“, says an almond producer in the Fez-Meknes region.

Recalling the latest figures from the Foreign Exchange Office (image below), she emphasizes that the volume of imports increased by 40% between 2022 and 2023. “The stock created means that Moroccan almonds are no longer sought after, especially since their American rivals are less expensive. The observation is that national transactions are almost at a standstill, and the prices offered imply selling at a loss“.

At the origin of the crisis, the gradual dismantling of tariffs imposed by the Morocco-USA free trade agreement

“The crisis among almond producers in Morocco was not only aggravated by the explosion of imports from the United States, but it was also, and above all, caused by it. At the origin of this crisis, the free trade agreement between Morocco and the United States which gradually lifted import duties on sweet almonds. Today, import quotas are completely lifted“, explains a farmer in the Fez-Meknes region.

He is joined on this point by an almond producer and crusher in the same region: “We are talking about a gradual replacement, even a substitution of local production by imports of American almonds. Historically, Morocco is known for its large production of almonds, which is the second largest arboreal production after the olive tree.

“Previously, Morocco was protected by import duties which were high, which blocked or slowed down American and even European imports. Then, there was the free trade agreement with Europe and with the States -United States. In the case of Europe, import duties were maintained, which meant that imports were penalized from European countries. But in the case of the association agreement with the United States. United States, there was a gradual dismantling which officially ended in 2018. Since then, import duties have become zero from the United States.

Signed in 2004, the free trade agreement between Morocco and the United States of America applies to trade in agricultural and industrial goods as well as trade in services. It provides for the establishment of lists corresponding to dismantling rates varying from 0 to 10 years, mainly including seeds, plants, breeding animals, animal feed, oilseeds, butter and certain fresh or processed products for which Morocco has comparative advantages.

An exception, in terms of treatment and dismantling period, was nevertheless retained for certain sensitive agricultural products for Morocco, whose customs duty will be dismantled over a period of 10 to 25 years. This list essentially includes milk and dairy products, almonds, barley, honey, eggs, food preparations, products containing sugar, sheep and goat meat as well as legumes.

“The problem arises from the fact that sweet almonds are not part of Annex 3-A detailing agricultural safeguard measures in the free trade agreement linking Morocco to the United States,” specifies our first interlocutor.

Explanations from the Ministry of Agriculture

Contacted by us, the Ministry of Agriculture explains to us that the increase in imports is justified by low almond production, linked to the drought of recent years. “The situation should recover with the entry into production of new plantations and favorable climatic conditions.”

The three producers contacted by Médias24 nevertheless contest the insufficiency of local almond production.

The importation of American almonds is in no way justified by the shortage of almonds in Morocco. Today, price is the main reason for imports. American almonds, which arrive at a very low price, thus lead to unfair competition,” notes the almond crusher.

“California alone is the world’s leading producer and the world’s leading exporter of almonds. We are not fighting on equal terms with the United States, which has enormous power since it monopolizes 75% to 80% of production. “The Americans therefore benefit from an enormous production, marketing and logistics infrastructure. All these elements mean that their exit prices are lower than ours,” he explains.

“Two thirds of local almond consumption today comes from the United States”

“Two thirds of local consumption of almonds today comes from the United States, whereas until 2018, this was entirely satisfied by Moroccan production,” adds the latter.

Morocco is self-sufficient in terms of almond production. But what’s going to happen is people are going to start ripping it off. Some have already started, simply because cultivation is no longer profitable. We are talking about a possible loss of significant capital in Morocco. Behind, a total dependence for a product which is widely consumed in Morocco, compared to the outside world, particularly compared to the United States. If tomorrow you have a surge in prices, as can happen for food materials, Morocco will find itself completely weakened by this type of imports. Whereas as of today, he is once again self-sufficient,” supports his colleague.

“The Moroccan consumer was accustomed to Moroccan almonds. Except that American almonds began over time to become commonplace, especially among manufacturers,” he observes.

Safeguard measures are necessary according to producers

“Despite the more competitive cost of American almonds, almond prices on the Moroccan market have continued to increase for the Moroccan consumer. In supermarkets, American almonds are sold at 109 DH/kg while they are imported for less than 50 DH/kg,” explains the almond producer in the Fez-Meknes region.

She continues: “Faced with such competition, if subsidy measures direct to farmers (like what was put in place for the cultivation of potatoes and onions) or non-tariff barriers are not put in place quickly, all current almond producers will have to uproot their trees.

“Indeed, this is a structural situation deliberately created and confirmed by the Moroccan government at the time of signing the free trade agreements with the United States. Ultimately, this means the destruction of an entire sector in the national soil and the death of the Moroccan almond. The United States, already producer of 80% of world production, will ultimately have control and monopoly of the Moroccan almond market, with all the risks that entails.

“To remedy the situation, we must review the free trade agreement and provide protective measures. We must put in place a barrier to the entry of almonds, like what was done for wheat and for various speculations”, concludes the almond crusher.

During the 2022-2023 season, the total area occupied by almond trees amounted to 230.510 hectares at the national level, according to the latest data provided by the ministry. The main production areas are concentrated in the regions of Tangier-Tétouan-Al Hoceima, Fès-Meknes and the Oriental. The average production of unshelled almonds is estimated at 146,096 tonnes.

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