U.S., Japan OK organic trade deal

BALTIMORE — The United States and Japan finalized a deal Sept. 26 that will allow organic products certified in Japan or in the United States to be sold as organic in either country, beginning Jan. 1.

This partnership will streamline U.S. farmers’ and processors’ access to the growing Japanese organic market, say U.S. officials.

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 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.

The organics sector in the United States and Japan is valued at more than $36 billion combined, and rising every year.

Cuts red tape

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.

Vetted standards

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.

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