WASHINGTON — The U.S. and European Union said Wednesday they have forged a historic partnership on organic trade that will eliminate double inspections and excessive fees in obtaining certifications on products, including cotton, traded on both sides of the Atlantic.
The agreement will take effect June 1 and apply to organic products certified in the U.S. or in Europe, with the aim of helping organic producers market and sell their products globally. The combined organic sectors in the U.S. and EU are valued at more than $50 billion.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture said raw agricultural commodities such as cotton are part of the historic partnership. The global organic textiles industry grew by 20 percent in 2010 to reach an estimated $5.6 billion, according to a report by Textile Exchange. The 2011 U.S. Organic Cotton Production & Marketing Trends report, conducted by the Organic Trade Association, showed a 36 percent increase in planted acres of organic cotton to reach 11,827 acres in 2010, yielding 13,279 bales. A 2 percent gain in planted acreage is forecast for 2012. Organic cotton still represents a small percent of overall cotton production, however. In the U.S., the 2011-12 crop is expected to come in at 15.8 million bales.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s office said officials signed formal letters creating the partnership at the BioFach World Organic Fair, the largest trade show for organic products, in Nuremberg, Germany. Signatories included Dacian Ciolos, European Commissioner for agriculture and rural development; Kathleen Merrigan, U.S. agriculture deputy secretary, and Isi Siddiqui, USTR chief agricultural negotiator.
“This partnership connects organic farmers and companies on both sides of the Atlantic with a wide range of new market opportunities,” said Merrigan. “It is a win for the American economy and President Obama’s jobs strategy. 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 package, ship and market organic products.”
Ciolos said the 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,” he said. “In addition, it improves transparency on organic standards, and enhances consumers’ confidence and recognition of our organic food and products.”
Organic producers and companies in the U.S. and EU that were interested in selling their products across the Atlantic had to previously obtain separate certificates for two standards, which led to a double set of fees, inspections and paperwork. USTR said the partnership will eliminate the trade barriers on organic products between the two economic powerhouses, especially for small and medium-size organic producers. All products meeting the terms of the partnership can be traded and labeled as certified organic cotton, produce, meat, cereal or wine.
Products must also have an organic export certificate that shows the production location, identifies the organization that certified the organic product and verifies that prohibited substances and methods were not used, in addition to allowing products to be tracked.
The European Commission’s Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development and the USDA’s National Organic Program, which oversees all organic products, will oversee the new partnership. Officials said the U.S. and EU will begin a series of initiatives to promote organic production and address issues such as animal welfare. Both programs will share technical information and best practices to enhance the “integrity” of organic crops and livestock.