Organic group hears USTR ag official tout EU agreement

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, May 2, 2012 -The partnership between the two largest organic producers in the world demonstrates “a truly historic agreement” and a “significant improvement to our trade relations” with the EU, Isi Siddiqui, the chief agricultural negotiator with the U.S. Trade Representative's Office, said of the U.S.-European Union Organic Equivalency Agreement, effective June 1.

“Too often I think we talk about differences between the U.S. and EU on various issues, but we don't celebrate what is common,” he told the Organic Trade Association conference in Washington late last week.

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The conference hosted several speakers who updated organic industry representatives on current policy issues, including the organic trade agreement between the United States and the European Union, and the upcoming Farm Bill.

“This is a good thing for us as well as them,” Siddiqui said of the U.S.-EU agreement. “Now with this arrangement, we will eliminate paperwork and barriers for organic trade, especially small and medium exporters.”

The organic sector in the United States and European Union is valued at more than $50 billion combined, and rising every year, according to USDA.

“Every agency at USDA should be standing up and recognizing that organic agriculture is a major part of American agriculture,” U.S. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan told the OTA attendees. “This is no longer a small market that people can discount.” USDA just completed a new organic survey and results are not yet availble. But the agency reported in 2010 that there are 14,540 organic farms on 4.1 million acres of farmland in the United States.

The equivalency arrangement, signed February 15, means that organic products certified to the USDA organic or EU organic standards may be sold, labeled and represented as organic in both regions. Siddiqui noted that the agreement poses no changes in biotech or organic policy within the United States.

Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wisc., who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, spoke to the OTA group of his optimism for passing a farm bill this year that includes necessary opportunities for the organic industry.

“There's pretty broad agreement between the Senate and House on opportunities for organic,” he said. “Hopefully, before the end of July, we'll have passed a piece of legislation for a farm bill. I'm optimistic that we can get this done this year.”

Ribble represents the eighth district of Wisconsin, which has a robust organic and retail agriculture industry. He said demand for “low cost, high producing food is always going to be there” in order to meet the demands of feeding the growing world population, but that the organic industry provides consumer choice in the market.The organic industry is a “microcosm of how free enterprise and American business works,” he said. “Consumers will pay a premium for something they believe is good for them and their families.”

Ribble assured the audience that their prospects are bright in the House Agriculture Committee for a farm bill with considerations for diverse and organic agriculture.

“Within House Ag, you are not viewed as an outlier,” he said, noting that chains like Whole Foods helped elevate the impression of the industry to politicians and the public in recent years.


Original story printed in May 2nd, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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