U.S. announces Organic Trade Agreement with Japan
Last week a the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that beginning January 1, 2014, organic products certified in Japan or in the United States may be sold as organic in either country.
This partnership between two significant organic markets will streamline U.S. farmers’ and processors’ access to the growing Japanese organic market, benefiting the rapidly growing organic industry and supporting job creation and business growth on a global scale.
“This partnership reflects the strength of the USDA organic standards, allowing American organic farmers, ranchers, and businesses to access Asia’s largest organic market,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “It is a win for the American economy and sets the foundation for additional organic agricultural trade agreements in Asia. This partnership provides economic opportunities for farmers and small businesses, resulting in good jobs for Americans across the organic supply chain.”
The organics sector in the United States and Japan is valued at more than $36 billion combined ($63 billion worldwide), and rising every year. Organic grains and other crops also fetch higher prices and much higher returns for farms with proper rotation and input methods, according to an economic comparison at Iowa State University.
Formal letters creating this partnership were finalized on September 26 in Baltimore, Maryland. Signatures to the partnership are Anne L. Alonzo, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator; Ambassador Islam Siddiqui, U.S. Trade Representative Chief Agricultural Negotiator; and Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Director General, Food Safety and Consumer Affairs Bureau. The announcement took place at Natural Products Expo East, one of the largest trade shows for organic products in the United States.
Without an equivalency arrangement in place, organic farmers and businesses wanting to sell products in either country had to obtain separate certifications to meet each country’s organic standards. This typically has meant two sets of fees, inspections, and paperwork. Similar to previous U.S. equivalency arrangements with Canada and the European Union, this trade partnership with Japan eliminates significant barriers, especially for small and medium-sized organic producers.
Leading up to today’s historic announcement, U.S. and Japanese technical experts conducted thorough on-site audits to ensure that their programs’ regulations, quality control measures, certification requirements, and labeling practices were compatible.
The U.S. and Japan organic standards cover the lifecycle of the product, including allowed and prohibited substances and natural resources conservation requirements. Both parties individually determined that their programs were “equivalent” with no restrictions for organic plant and plant products. This means that-for the first time-certified organic farmers and businesses in the U.S. don’t have to prove that they didn’t use a specific substance or production method to gain access to the Japanese organic market.
Both parties are committed to ensuring that all traded organic products meet the terms of the partnership, retaining their organic integrity from farm to market. Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program-which oversee organic products in their respective countries-will both take on key oversight roles.
The United States and Japan will continue to have regular discussions and will review each other’s programs periodically to verify that the terms of the partnership are being met.
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