This past week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and 12 of her Senate colleagues sent a letter to Korean Ambassador Ahn Ho-Young expressing concern that the Korean market may close to organic exports on Jan. 1, 2014. The letter urges the Ambassador to take steps to prevent any disruption in trade by keeping the Korean market open to products certified organic to the USDA National Organic Program standard, pending the negotiation of an equivalency agreement.
Sen. Feinstein was joined by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
“The Organic Trade Association (OTA) appreciates involvement by our Senators to advocate for this action,” said Laura Batcha, OTA’s executive vice president, pointing out, “Korea is a critical market for U.S. exports of organic products, and it is vital for the health and growth of the U.S. organic industry to keep this open.”
Negotiations between the United States and Korea have been ongoing since 2009, when the Korean Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Foods (MIFAFF) promulgated a complex series of regulations governing organic production, labeling, and enforcement in Korea to be implemented on Jan. 1 2010. For the past four years, through concerted efforts by the U.S. government, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, OTA, the U.S. organic industry, and international trading partners (including Canada, the EU, New Zealand, Australia, and Chile), MIFFAF, now known as the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (MAFRA), delayed implementation of the regulation. Thus, U.S. organic products were allowed to be traded freely, without further need for certification.
However, in May 2012, the Korean legislature passed a new Organic Act that is to go into effect in 2014. Unfortunately, the Act only covered processed products. Thus, beginning Jan. 1, 2013, all fresh/raw organic agricultural products and ingredients were shut out of Korea unless they were certified to the Korean standard. On Jan. 1, 2014, processed products will also be shut out of Korea unless they are certified to the Korean standard, thus closing the market to all U.S. organic products not certified to the Korean organic standards.
“The U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement lays out a framework to address agriculture trade barriers as they arise. Members of OTA have called on the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and USDA to work with Korean officials to find an immediate solution in the spirit of this agreement,” Batcha added.