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U.S., Japan Streamline Organic Trade

U.S., Japan Streamline Organic Trade
A bilateral agreement says if it's labeled organic in one country, that label carries to the other. The move has been applauded by organic groups.

Rising interest in organic food is a business opportunity for farmers and apparently for global trade as well. This week USDA announced that starting Jan. 1, 2014, organic products certified as organic in Japan or in the United States, can be sold as organic in either country.

This is good news for U.S. producers who see Japan's growing organic market as an opportunity, and the agreement streamlines the market.

ORGANIC RULES: Japan-US agree that if each country certifies something as organic, there's no need for recertification.

In a press statement, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says: "This partnership reflects the strength of the USDA organic standards, allowing American organic farmers, ranchers and businesses to access Asia's largest organic market. He notes that this agreement sets the stage for more organic trade throughout Asia.

The combined market for organic goods in both markets is more than $36 billion and rising every year.

Before this agreement, organic farmers in either market wanting to sell into the other had to get separate certificates to meet each country's organic standards. Similar to previous U.S. equivalency arrangements with Canada and the European Union, this trade partnership with Japan gets rid of key barriers that were especially hard on small and medium-sized organic producers.

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.

This agreement only covers products exported from and certified in the United States or Japan. For additional details on this agreement, please visit:

Industry response

Interestingly USDA issued a press release filled with praise from groups supportive of the U.S.-Japan move. Groups that are part of the National Organic Standards Program issued statements in favor of the move. Here are the comments - unedited from USDA press release - shared today:

"This monumental agreement will further create jobs in the already growing U.S. organic sector, spark additional market growth, and be mutually beneficial to producers both in the United States and Japan and to consumers who choose organic products,"

—Christine Bushway, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association

"This is welcome news for the U.S. organic grain industry, which will see its products more easily traded and welcomed in the burgeoning Japanese market. Organic grains are a vital part of organic offerings, and crucial to global trade."

—Lynn Clarkson, president of Clarkson Grain Co. Inc.

"As an organic certifier with a significant foot print in the west, we see the Japanese market as an important opportunity for organic companies. This agreement will benefit many small, medium and large organic businesses by reducing their costs, simplifying their certification and giving them access to the JAS seal, the official mark of organic products in Japan. Nearly 600 of CCOF's farmers and processors will benefit directly and immediately from this change."

—Jake Lewin, Chief Certification Officer, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF)

"This agreement is vital to specialty crop growers, who number more than 2,000 in California alone. These producers will be able to expand sales in a vibrant Japanese market, inspiring growth in a sector that is already creating jobs and economic opportunity."

—Cathy Calfo, Executive Director, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF)

"We increasingly live in a global economy. Any time countries can collaborate to eliminate or reduce trade barriers, the market is strengthened. This agreement will allow our company to greatly simplify exports to Japan our largest export market for organic walnuts, and increase organic production here in the United States."

—Jenny Lester Moffitt, Sales and Marketing for Dixon Ridge Farms

"All of us at Amy's Kitchen truly welcome this news. We are especially encouraged that the larger shared values and practices relative to organic and sustainable food production between us are no longer overshadowed by minor, technical differences. This new understanding now facilitates an unimpeded flow of Amy's products into the Japanese market, creating jobs in our U.S. production facilities and making our organic offerings available to the many Japanese consumers who are seeking a higher- quality organic vegetarian meal option."

—Andy Berliner, founder of Amy's Kitchen

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