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Organic 101: Organic Trade Basics

Posted by Miles McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program in Food and Nutrition Trade
Feb 21, 2017
Expanding trade for U.S. organic products—like the carrots pictured above—creates opportunities for small businesses and increases jobs for Americans who grow, package, ship and market their organic products.
Expanding trade for U.S. organic products—like the carrots pictured above—creates opportunities for small businesses and increases jobs for Americans who grow, package, ship and market their organic products.
This is the fourteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

Are you a certified organic operation looking to increase your market presence? USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) recently published two fact sheets that explain the basics of importing and exporting organic products to assist organic producers and processors in accessing new markets for their products.

Expanding trade for U.S. organic products creates opportunities for small businesses and increases jobs for Americans who grow, package, ship and market organic products. During this Administration, USDA has streamlined trade with multiple foreign governments.

Trade partnerships allow U.S. organic products to be sold as organic in multiple countries, including Canada, the European Union (EU), Japan, and Taiwan without maintaining certification to multiple standards. Many additional countries accept USDA organic products without a specific trade partnership.  Thanks to these partnerships, U.S. organic operations can tap into many larger international markets.

U.S. organic exports to Japan are currently estimated at $80 million, with growth due to the partnership expected to reach at least $250 million in 10 years.  In 2012, the U.S. exported around $73 million of organic products to the EU and close to $2 billion to Canada.  Organic import and export data is published online by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and you can also build customized reports.

Imported products must be certified in one of two ways to be sold as organic in the United States. First, products can be certified to the USDA organic regulations through the traditional certification process. USDA authorizes organizations around the world to certify farms and businesses. Secondly, the U.S. currently accepts most products certified to the Canadian, European Union, or Japanese organic standards.

In addition to organic requirements, traded agricultural products must meet all general or commodity-specific import and export requirements for the destination country. The requirements for importing and exporting organic products vary by country. For example, general requirements for organic products imported to the U.S. include:

  • Labeling. Organic products sold in the U.S. must meet all USDA organic labeling requirements.
  • Import Codes. For certain organic products, traders must use harmonized tariff schedule codes for tracking purposes.
  • Grading. Imported and exported agricultural commodities must often meet product size, grade, quality, and maturity requirements through AMS grading services.
  • Health Inspection: Shipments must include permits, sanitary certificates, and phytosanitary certificates to ensure the product is healthy and free from pests.
  • Meat, Poultry, and Processed Egg Products. USDA only allows imported meat, poultry, and processed egg products from countries with inspection standards equivalent to U.S. standards.

Through trade partnerships, consumers benefit from a wider range of organic products year-round. The United States and our many trade partners are committed to ensuring that all traded organic products meet the terms of the partnerships, retaining their organic integrity from farm to market.

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition Trade