USDA: Organic Equivalency Agreement Approved for US and Japan

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced beginning January 1, 2014, organic products certified in Japan or in the United States may be sold as organic in either country.

Following on the footsteps of organic equivalency agreements between the United States and Canada and the European Union, the U.S.-Japan agreement will strengthen access to markets and eliminate trade barriers for organic producers.

"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 Tom Vilsack, U.S. Agriculture Secretary, in a written statement.

According to the USDA, the organic market between the two countries is valued at more than $36 billion and continues to rise. 

United States Trade Representative Michael Froman said the agreement will streamline access to the growing Japanese organic market for U.S. farmers and processors and eliminate significant barriers for small and medium organic producers, benefiting America's thriving organic industry.

"This represents another key step in strengthening our economic relationship with Japan by boosting agriculture trade between Japan and the United States, leading to more jobs and economic benefits for American farmers and businesses in this important sector," Froman said. 

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.

Prior to this agreement, 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.

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

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