MOROCCO – Farmers in France have embarked on a protest with furious producers dumping kilograms of Moroccan tomatoes in supermarket parking lots over allegations of ‘unfair competition’ from Moroccan tomato imports.

The Moroccan exporters, however, refuse to be dragged into the political crossfire. An anonymous representative from the Moroccan Exporters’ Association vehemently denies the accusations.

“Our products (Moroccan tomatoes) are not invading France or Europe. We are subjected to rigorous requirements,” stated the representative.

Despite the ongoing protests, Moroccan exporters associations have opted not to officially engage with the French farmers’ grievances.

The timing of the unrest is noteworthy, considering that Morocco claimed the top spot as the leading supplier of tomatoes to the European Union in 2022, exporting a staggering 424,690 tons, as reported by the Moroccan Association of Fruit and Vegetable Producers and Exporters.

According to the New Arab, the dominance of Moroccan tomatoes in the French market is attributed to factors like cheap labor and the European Union’s ‘tax exemptions deal.’

This deal has made Moroccan tomatoes the go-to choose for customers and retail chains seeking cost-effective options.

“For instance, the Moroccan cherry tomato is 2.4 times cheaper than its French counterpart, thanks in part to the daily wage of tomato harvesters in Morocco, which is less than USD 1.5 per hour,” outlines the report.

Contrary to popular belief, the free trade agreement between Morocco and the EU doesn’t entirely exempt Moroccan tomatoes from taxes.

The agreement imposes specific rules, including entry prices and annual limitations. Beyond the prescribed quota of 285,000 tons between October and May, taxes apply.

Outside this period, Moroccan tomatoes can still benefit from a 60% discount, provided they are not sold at prices lower than those set by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“The quotas set by the free trade agreement with the EU are meticulously adhered to. Quantities exported outside of these quotas are subject to specific tariffs, which we respect,” emphasized the anonymous source from the Moroccan Exporters’ Association.

Interestingly, while small French farmers struggle to compete, certain French conglomerates have profited handsomely from the tax deal.

One such company, Azura, established in 1998, boasts revenue of “€400 million” in 2022, primarily selling its crops in France through large retail chains.

The discontent among French farmers has escalated into a week-long protest, with tractors blocking key roads into Paris and major highways across the nation.

Complaints range from stringent environmental regulations to the influx of cheap imports from non-EU nations like Ukraine and Morocco, all converging on the overarching challenge of sustaining livelihoods in a competitive capitalist landscape.

On February 1, two major farming unions, FNSEA and Young Farmers, suspended their protests following promises from Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who pledged financial aid, eased regulations, and protection against unfair competition.

However, some unions, including the Farmers’ Confederation, remain mobilized, deeming Attal’s commitments insufficient to address the crisis.

Lahoucine Adardour, president of the Moroccan Interprofessional Federation for the Production and Export of Fruits and Vegetables (FIFEL), reported that despite the ongoing protests, agricultural exports from Morocco to Europe continue unaffected.

The fervor of the French farmers’ blockade has resonated beyond France, sparking similar protests in Brussels as farmers mobilize with tractors, blocking the city’s main streets in a display of solidarity across the European continent.

The controversy surrounding Moroccan tomatoes remains a potent symbol of the complexities inherent in international trade and agricultural policies.

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