The international organic market just got a little bigger.  

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced Wednesday that the organic certifying programs in the United States and Europe Union are now considered equivalent.  The new partnership between the two largest organic producers in the world means that products certified organic under one certification scheme can be sold as organic in the other without additional certification and paperwork.

Prior to the partnership, producers and companies seeking to trade their organic products both domestically and abroad had to obtain two separate certifications, one from the U.S. and one from the EU.  Each certification required its own fees, inspections, and paperwork.  By declaring the organic standards equivalent, the partnership eliminates many significant barriers, especially for small and medium-sized organic producers.

In a press release, Deputy Secretary Merrigan noted the new partnership “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.”

The partnership recognizes that while the certification standards are compatible, there are some differences that need to be addressed.  As a general rule, all products that meet the terms of the partnership may be traded and labeled as certified organic produce, meat, cereal, or wine.  

The major difference comes in the use of antibiotics.  Under the agreement, U.S. apples and pears produced using antibiotics (to control fire blight) may not be exported to the EU, and EU meat and milk derived from animals treated with antibiotics may not be exported to the U.S..

The terms of the partnership require the U.S. and EU to have regular discussions and to periodically review each other’s programs to ensure that the partnership agreement is being met.

The international trade implications of this partnership are huge.  The combined value of the EU and U.S. organic sectors is valued at $50 billion each year, and growing.  Officials at USDA estimate that U.S. organic exports to Europe will triple within three years.

EU Commissioner Dacian Ciolos noted that the partnership “improves transparency on organic standards, and enhances consumers’ confidence and recognition of our organic food and products.  This partnership marks an important step, taking EU-U.S. agricultural trade relations to a new level of cooperation.”