The European Union and the United States announced at the BioFach World Organic Fair in Nuremberg on February 15 that beginning June 1, 2012, organic products certified in the EU or in the US may be sold as organic in either region. Formal letters creating this partnership were signed in Nuremberg by Dacian Ciolos, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development; Kathleen Merrigan, U.S. Agriculture Deputy Secretary; and Ambassador Isi Siddiqui, U.S. Trade Representative Chief Agricultural Negotiator.
"This agreement comes with a double added value. On the one hand, organic farmers and food producers will benefit from easier access, with less bureaucracy and less costs, to both the U.S. and the EU markets, strengthening the competitiveness of this sector, improve transparency on organic standards, and enhance consumers' confidence and recognition of our organic food and products," Mr. Ciolos said. "This partnership connects organic farmers and companies on both sides of the Atlantic with a wide range of new market opportunities," said Ms. Merrigan. "It is a win for the American economy and President Obama's jobs strategy”.
Previously, growers and companies wanting to trade products on both sides of the Atlantic had to obtain separate certifications to two standards, which meant a double set of fees, inspections, and paperwork. This partnership eliminates significant barriers, especially for small and medium-sized organic producers.
Miles McEvoy of the USDA NOP Program and Herman Van Boxem of the EC told O.W.N. that all products traded under the partnership, eg, for a shipment to the EU, must be shipped with a bill of laden and an import transaction certificate and pay a fee to their certifier. This document shows the production location, the organization that certified the organic product, verify that prohibited substances and methods weren't used, certify that the terms of the partnership were met and allow products to be tracked. However, Mr. McEvoy said if a U.S. farm wanted to send a second shipment to the EU, it would only need a bill of laden that meets the requirement of an import certificate. All products meeting the terms of the partnership can be traded and labeled as certified organic produce, meat, cereal, or wine.
Leading up to the historic announcement, both parties conducted thorough on-site audits to ensure that their programs' regulations, quality control measures, certification requirements, and labeling practices were compatible. Both parties also determined that their programs were equivalent except for the prohibition on the use of antibiotics. The USDA organic regulations prohibit the use of antibiotics except to control invasive bacterial infections (fire blight) in organic apple and pear orchards. The EU organic regulations allow antibiotics only to treat infected animals. For all products traded under this partnership, certifying agents must verify that antibiotics were not used for any reason. Both parties will also begin to work on a series of cooperation initiatives to promote organic production and tackle other very important topics such as animal welfare.
Currently, this agreement only covers products exported from and certified in the United States or the European Union. The organics sector in the United States and European Union is valued at more than $50 billion combined of the $60 billion world organic market.