Engredea News  Analysis

New U.S.-Swiss organic arrangement marks a critical step forward

The new pact allows organic products certified in the U.S. or Switzerland to be sold as organic in either country and eliminates the need for two sets of fees, inspections and paperwork while upholding high organic oversight standards.  

A new organic equivalency arrangement between the United States and Switzerland — whose residents consume more organic food than any other country — marks the final step in opening the valuable European market to the U.S. organic sector and streamlining the trans-Atlantic flow of organic trade, said the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in welcoming the new pact.

"This new arrangement has been three years in the making, and we thank and congratulate officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) for their successful collaborative efforts," said Laura Batcha, executive director and CEO of OTA. "Swiss consumers put a high value on food quality and nutrition, and they've made organic a part of their daily diets. Now they will be able to enjoy greater access to the high-quality organic products from the U.S."

The United States and Switzerland signed the arrangement on July 9 in Washington, D.C. The new pact allows organic products certified in the U.S. or Switzerland to be sold as organic in either country, beginning July 10, and eliminates the need for two sets of fees, inspections and paperwork while still upholding high organic oversight standards.

"The arrangement opens Switzerland for U.S. organic farmers, ranchers and food makers," said Robert Anderson, senior trade advisor for OTA. "Equally important, coupled with the historic U.S.-EU organic equivalency agreement, it creates streamlined access to continental Europe's strong organic marketplaces, and promotes mutually beneficial flows of organic ingredients between Switzerland, Europe and the U.S."

The signing of the U.S.-Switzerland Organic Equivalency Agreement builds on the U.S. 2012 landmark equivalency agreement with the European Union, and in 2009 with Canada, the two biggest trading partners for the U.S. organic sector. It also follows the opening of the Asian market to American organic made possible by the equivalency arrangements with Korea in 2014 and Japan in 2013.

OTA and the U.S. organic industry played an active role in directly advising and lending technical assistance to negotiators in facilitating the pact. OTA provided the organic sector's perspective on key issues to USDA and USTR, reflecting OTA's engagement with organic stakeholders through the EU Task Force and the OTA International Forum. The U.S. organic industry, along with accredited certifiers and USDA officials, also participated in site visits with delegations from Switzerland to demonstrate the quality of U.S. organic products and the integrity of the organic regulatory system.

The organic market in Switzerland has grown steadily in recent years. According to Bio Suisse, the umbrella organization representing the Swiss organic sector, organic retail sales in 2013 in Switzerland jumped 12 percent from the previous year, reaching almost $2 billion (U.S. dollars). Showing the biggest increase in organic sales were meat, fruit, processed products and cheese.

However, the fact that Switzerland is not a member of the EU has been a bottleneck in organic trade between the U.S, the EU and Switzerland. Swiss organic food makers often source organic ingredients from the EU, which are then processed and sent to the United States, and food processors in the EU and the U.S. frequently use Swiss organic ingredients, such as organic chocolate, organic milk powder, or organic dried mustard. The new arrangement will facilitate those transactions and open new opportunities for organic farmers and processors on both sides of the Atlantic.

The arrangement comes as demand for organic around the world is soaring. Organic food sales in the U.S. alone last year totaled $35.9 billion, a new record and up 11 percent from a year ago. Organic exports out of the U.S. are also increasing, with an estimated $3.2 billion worth of American organic products sold throughout the globe in 2014.

The robust organic market in the United States has created jobs in the organic sector at four times the national rate. Batcha said exports are also critical for organic farmers and processors, and will spark additional growth.

Further details and background information about this latest agreement are available on OTA's website. OTA also provides a Global Organic Trade Guide, to help U.S. organic producers and handlers export organic products. The site features an in-depth Market Data section and the only map tool to communicate global organic trade information in real time to U.S. farmers, ranchers, and food processors looking to export organic products to Europe and the rest of the world.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. OTA is the leading voice for the organic trade in the United States, representing over 8,500 organic businesses across 50 states. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA's Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA's mission is to promote and protect ORGANIC with a unifying voice that serves and engages its diverse members from farm to marketplace.

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