Taking part in the announcement of an agreement designed to increase organic trade between the U.S. and European Union is Dacian Ciolos (from left), European commissioner, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan, and Ambassador Isi Siddiqui, U.S. Trade Representative’s Chief Agriculture Negotiator.
On February 15 2012 at BioFach, the day after the GOMA Conference, representatives of the US Government and European Union signed a bilateral agreement (called “arrangement” by the EU Commission) to recognize each other’s regulations for organic products. This means that in general, organic products may be traded between the US and EU member states without additional conformity assessment measures. The trade agreement is currently restricted to agricultural products produced and/or processed or packaged within the EU and US. The agreement also requires exclusion from trade, products from production systems using antibiotics. The US will prohibit products of animal origin if antibiotics have been administered to the animals. The EU will prohibit products of plant origin (principally certain fruits) where certain antibiotics allowed for pest control under the NOP rules have been used. Labeling requirements of the countries will continue to apply for all products. The agreement paves the way for some 90% of the global organic trade to flow without restrictions imposed by technical regulations.
At the outset of the agreement signing ceremony, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan cited the previous day’s GOMA Conference, saying “Yesterday, I had the opportunity to address the Global Organic Market Access (GOMA) conference, and I’d like to thank (GOMA) for the opportunity to help guide the development of regional organic standards and international trade agreements. USDA is all for bringing folks together, to do good things through mutually beneficial trade agreements. Achieving equivalency arrangements requires a high level of diligence by all parties. However we believe the results are well worth the effort.”
European Commissioner for Agriculture, Dacian Ciolos, acknowledged the persistent work of the respective teams, and he noted that several times they were able to overcome halts in the processes. One of the obstacles arising was the difference in the legal bases for the cooperation, which was eventually resolved.
A subsequent briefing session announced that the parties to the agreement will establish a working group for technical cooperation, in part to maintain the agreement but also to partner in order to share information and cooperatively develop their systems. Examples of shared topics include recognition of other countries, animal health and welfare standards, staying harmonized in light of further developments in organic agriculture, and improving controls.
Representatives from both the EU and US acknowledged the EU-US agreement does not directly benefit market access for producers from developing countries; NOP certified bananas cannot be directly shipped from a third country to EU member states under the agreement, and bananas certified to the EU regulation cannot be directly shipped from a third country to the US under the agreement. However, it was speculated that there will be indirect, positive impacts for the third country producers, including that the major markets will expand and therefore demand more supply from third countries. Also, there was optimism that this landmark equivalence achievement will pave the way for expansion of equivalence with other countries.