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. USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan signed formal letters creating the partnership in February, along with Dacian Ciolos, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, and Ambassador Isi Siddiqui, U.S. Trade Representative Chief Agricultural Negotiator.
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 existing now eliminates these significant barriers, which is especially helpful for small and medium-sized organic farmers. During negotiations, both parties conducted thorough on-site audits to ensure that their programs' regulations, quality control measures, certification requirements, and labeling practices were compatible.
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. 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.
The United States and the European Union will continue to have regular discussions and review each other's programs periodically to verify that the terms of the partnership are being met. 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. 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. Both parties are committed to ensuring that products traded under the agreement retain their organic integrity from farm to market. 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.
Estimates show the market for U.S. organics sales to the EU could grow substantially within the first few years of this arrangement. Today, more than two-thirds of U.S. consumers buy organic products at least occasionally, and 28% buy organic products weekly.