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Attack of the Chinese tomato leaves Italian agriculture red-faced

June 16, 2010

By Guy Dinmore in Rome June 16,

First it was the clothing industry, then reports of counterfeit household goods and even mislabelled fish. Now Italy is ringing alarm bells over an “invasion” of Chinese tomatoes.

“We will defend the Italian tomato,” Giancarlo Galan, Italy’s new agriculture minister, declared on Wednesday responding to reports by Coldiretti, an agricultural association, that Italian imports of Chinese tomatoes had soared by over 170 per cent in the past year and now made up 10 per cent of the country’s processed tomato market.With the tomato season in full swing (mostly dependent on immigrant crop pickers) Mr Galan said he would order food inspectors and the ministry’s forestry police to carry out checks to ensure that consumers wanting to buy Italian tomatoes could be confident of their origin.

However Mr Galan appears to have missed a salient point in the Coldiretti report, namely that Chinese tomatoes were being imported into Italy for processing into paste and then re-exported with an Italian label to countries like Ghana which buys about 28,000 tonnes from Italy each year.

The minister’s statement reflects growing protectionist sentiments in Italy as even traditional bastions of the economy, such as agriculture, come under pressure from foreign exporters.

Chinese exports of food and drink to the EU have doubled over the past decade, reaching 3.2bn euros in 2009.

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