The USDA has announced 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 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.
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.
Estimates show the market for U.S. organics sales to the EU could grow substantially within the first few years of this arrangement.