United States and Switzerland establish organic trade agreement

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 9, 2015 - The United States and Switzerland announced today that beginning July 10, organic products certified in the United States or Switzerland may be sold as organic in either country. 

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Similar to previous U.S. equivalency arrangements with Canada, Japan, Korea, and the European Union, this agreement eliminates the need for organic operators to have separate organic certification to both U.S. and Swiss standards, which avoids a double set of fees, inspections and paperwork. 

This is especially important for small and medium-sized organic businesses that otherwise face significant barriers, Anne Alonzo, the administrator of USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, which oversees the National Organic Program, said in an interview with Agri-Pulse.

Alonzo said the agreement provides U.S. producers access to the $2 billion Swiss market for organic products.

“This new partnership reflects the integrity of the National Organic Program and USDA's rigorous organic standards,” Alonzo said. “We look forward to providing Swiss consumers with more U.S. organic products and enjoying organic Swiss products.”

Switzerland has the highest per capita consumption of organic food in the world, according to the FiBL, or the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture.

The U.S. and Switzerland have been working on the arrangement for three years.

Laura Batcha, CEO of the Organic Trade Association, noted in a statement that, “Swiss consumers put a high value on food quality and nutrition, and they've made organic a part of their daily diets…Now they will be able to enjoy greater access to the high-quality organic products from the U.S.”

Through the organic equivalency arrangements reached over the past few years, U.S. organic farmers and businesses have streamlined access to over $35 billion international organic markets, according to USDA's announcement, which also noted that the U.S. organic market is valued at $39 billion.

Alonzo added that the U.S. is currently discussing an organic equivalency agreement with Mexico.

“The organic industry has made significant progress under this administration,” USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden said in a statement.

Technical experts from the United States and Switzerland conducted on-site audits to ensure that their regulations, quality control measures, certification requirements and labeling practices were compatible, USDA said. The United States and Switzerland will review each other's programs periodically to verify that the terms of the arrangement are being met. 

Alonzo said the Swiss organic regulations are similar to the accreditation and certification requirements of the European Union.

Formal letters establishing the arrangement will be signed today during a ceremony at the Agriculture Department in Washington.

Harden; Johann Schneider-Ammann, federal councillor of Switzerland; and Darci Vetter, chief agricultural negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), were scheduled to attend the ceremony.

 

This story was updated at 11:20 am on 7/9/2015 to show the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service corrected its estimate of the Swiss market size for organic products.

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