US organic standards going global with international trade agreements
“Tremendous strides” have been made in the development of organic trade agreements between the US and other countries, according to a June 22nd panel discussion at the 2014 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo in New Orleans.
In the past, the IFT said international trade of organic products between the US and other countries had been difficult because of the wide variations in international organic standards and certification requirements.
Currently, the US has “equivalency agreements” with Canada, the European Union, and Japan. The agreement establishes that the countries involved agree that the objective of each other’s organic regulations and control systems are equal. This means that products can be sold as “organic” in either market, without further certification or documentation; products may carry the organic seal of both countries; and accredited certifiers are mutually recognised.
The IFT said such agreements were important in light of US President Obama’s National Export Initiative, which projects a doubling of US agriculture exports by 2015. Negotiations can sometimes take a decade or more, but according to Laura Batcha, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association, three international organic trade arrangements have been developed in the last five years alone.
In Israel, India and New Zealand, the US is formally recognised as a “competent authority” to accredit certification bodies to inspect and certify organic food products.
“These agreements have eliminated the majority of the existing trade issues and have opened up new opportunities,” said Bob Anderson, Senior Trade Advisor Sustainable Strategies, Organic Trade Association.
The USDA Foreign Agriculture Service, National Organic Program, and the Organic Trade Association (OTA) are in the process of negotiating trade agreements and resolving trade issues with several other countries, including Korea, Switzerland, India, China, and Latin America. The OTA offers assistance to food companies seeking help in establishing international trade in the organic market with these countries.
According to Jake Lewin, President of California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) Certification Services,China, Mexico, Korea, and Brazil are “non-equivalent” countries that “currently require re-certification all the way back to the farm”.
“Things are improving, but we must continue to work with governments and certifiers to find pathways that meet the needs of U.S .businesses,” Mr Lewin said.