WASHINGTON, Jun. 4, 2012—The USDA announced today that organic products certified in the United States or European Union may now be sold as organic in either market, as trade opened up on Friday, June 1, under a new U.S.-EU equivalency partnership.
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan signed formal letters creating the partnership in February, along with Dacian Cioloş, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, and Ambassador Isi Siddiqui, U.S. Trade Representative Chief Agricultural Negotiator.
“This partnership will open new markets for American farmers and ranchers, create more opportunities for small businesses, and result in good jobs for Americans who grow, package, ship, and market organic products,” said Merrigan. “Equivalency arrangements such as this are critical to growing the U.S. organics industry—they require careful negotiation to ensure that we maintain existing U.S. trade policies while ensuring that U.S. agricultural products will compete on a level playing field in world markets.”
The United States signed a similar partnership with Canada in July 2009, and additional equivalency arrangement conversations have begun with South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
Previously, producers and companies wanting to trade products on both sides of the Atlantic had to obtain separate certifications to two standards, which resulted in a double set of fees, inspections, and paperwork. The partnership eliminates those barriers, which is especially helpful for small and medium-sized organic farmers, according to the USDA announcement.
“This agreement provides economic opportunities for certified organic farmers as well as additional incentives for prospective farmers,” said Miles McEvoy, National Organic Program Deputy Administrator.
Although there are slight differences between the United States and European Union organic standards, both parties individually determined that their programs were equivalent, thereby allowing the agreement that opened up trade today. The exception has to do with prohibition on the use of antibiotics, explained the USDA announcement. USDA organic regulations prohibit the use of antibiotics except to control invasive bacterial infections (fire blight) in organic apple and pear orchards. The European Union organic regulations allow antibiotics only to treat infected animals. For all products traded under this partnership, certifying agents must verify that antibiotics are not used for any reason.
Later this year, representatives from both markets will compare the USDA organic wine standards to the recently published European Union wine standards and determine how wine can fit into the trade partnership. In the interim, traded wine must meet the production and labeling requirements of the destination market.
The arrangement covers products exported from and certified in the United States or the European Union only.
“Estimates show the market for U.S. organics sales to the EU could grow substantially within the first few years of this arrangement,” according to the USDA announcement. “Today, more than two-thirds of U.S. consumers buy organic products at least occasionally, and 28 percent buy organic products weekly.”
All products traded under the partnership must be shipped with an organic import certificate, which shows the location where production occurred, identifies the organization that certified the organic product, and verifies that growers and handlers did not use prohibited substances and methods. In addition to certifying that the terms of the partnership were met, the certificates also allow traded products to be tracked. The European Commission's Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development and the USDA National Organic Program—which oversees all U.S. organic products—will take on key oversight roles.
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