By Melissa Shipman

Special to The Packer

The U.S. Department of Agriculture began a trade agreement with Japan that says products certified as organic in either country may be sold as organic in both locations, according to news release.

The agreement goes into effect Jan. 1.

Before the partnership began, businesses in both countries had to obtain separate certifications to meet each country’s organic standards, which meant two sets of paperwork, fees and inspections.

This plan should provide cost savings for producers.

“By minimizing duplication of certifications, equivalence agreements can provide great cost-saving for even the smallest of producers,” said Sam Jones-Ellard, public affairs specialist for the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

In addition, the agreement provides additional outlets for growers to sell their products, which could encourage more to begin growing organic.

“Access to larger markets is a major incentive for developing organic systems, and sustainable production systems will provide fertile ground for family farmers, rural communities, and agricultural economies,” Jones-Ellard said.

According to a USDA blog post by national organic program deputy administrator Miles McEvoy, the arrangement should streamline access to the growing Japanese organic market for American growers and processors.

The National Organic Program has helped create an industry that includes more than 17,000 organic business in the U.S. alone, according to McEvoy’s article.

The USDA expects the agreement to help meet the growing demand for organic products.

“By increasing the number of organic products on grocery store shelves to meet consumer demand, the arrangement facilitates continued growth of the organic market and provides additional economic opportunities for organic farmers around the world,” said Anne Alonzo, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service administrator.

One challenge of an equivalence agreement is the ability of certifiers and governments to verify the integrity throughout the organic value chain.

“To prepare for this arrangement, both parties conducted thorough on-site audits to ensure that regulations, quality control measures, certification requirements and labeling practices were compatible while maintaining the integrity of both systems,” McEvoy said in his article.

Both countries will continue to have regular discussions and program reviews to ensure the terms of the agreement are being met, according to the release.

The U.S. has similar arrangements with the European Union and Canada.