On 15 February 2012, the EU and the US signed an agreement on mutual recognition of each other’s organic certification processes. This will facilitate mutual trade in organic products by removing the need for dual certification and inspection when serving EU and US markets, and will reduce costs, particularly for small-scale organic producers.
According to Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş, the agreement ‘marks an important step, taking EU–US agricultural trade relations to a new level of cooperation’. Possible future areas of cooperation identified include the promotion of common standards on animal welfare. The agreement comes into effect on 1 June 2012 and is expected to lead to an increase in transatlantic trade in organic products.
The conclusion of the agreement, according to the EC, was based on ‘thorough on-site audits to ensure that their programs’ regulations, quality control measures, certification requirements, and labelling practices were compatible’. All products to be traded under the arrangement must be accompanied by an organic export certificate showing: place of production, certifying agency, and verifying that prohibited substances have not been used. Full traceability of the product also needs to be demonstrated.
The scheme is to be subject to periodic review to ensure the continued integrity of the organic label. The EC press release points out that ‘currently the agreement only covers products exported from and certified in the United States or the European Union’ (i.e. it does not include Canadian products covered by a similar US–Canada agreement).
Mutual recognition of each other’s organic standards potentially gives US suppliers of organic products far easier access than ACP suppliers have to the EU market. Achieving mutual recognition between individual ACP countries and the EU (or the US and Caribbean countries) would suggest a need for close consultations with the EU (or US) on the development of local regulatory frameworks for organic products.
A logical next step would then be to extend mutual recognition beyond the EU and US to ensure mutual acceptance of any third country standards recognised as equivalent by the other party. This could constitute a significant cost saving for ACP exporters and perhaps more importantly could support export market diversification for ACP organic producers.