The pipeline of U.S. organic products flowing to South Korea was unblocked, at least partially, by a recently equivalency deal struck by the two countries.
Exports of organic food to South Korea came to a “virtual standstill” in January, when that country required U.S. producers to be certified under its organic standards, according to USDA.
The change discouraged organic exports because U.S. organic producers were to be subject to twice as many fees and inspections, the agency said.
South Korea has now agreed to recognize U.S. organic standards as equivalent to its own for processed food, but not fresh products.
Sales of U.S. organic processed foods were $35 million in 2013, according to USDA.
“While we do not currently have anything in the works for fresh products, we will continue to engage with Korea in the future to try to broaden the agreement,” said Samuel Jones-Ellard, public affairs specialist for the agency’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
South Korea had imposed the new standard on U.S. organic producers in January as part of a larger overhaul of its organic regulations, said Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator of the USDA AMS.
Previously, the country did not require accredited certification for food producers to make organic claims, he said.
Due to pressure from South Korean farmers and consumers, the government began requiring organic certification by an agency accredited in that country, which created a “double certification” problem for producers in the U.S., McEvoy said.
The equivalency agreement resolves that issue only for processed goods because “Korean law does not allow equivalency for fresh products,” he said.
Fresh producers in the U.S. could previously sell their goods under the organic label in South Korea, but fresh products were a small part of organic trade, he said.
“It was not happening to any great extent,” McEvoy said. “The trade was primarily in processed organic products.”
The U.S. has also reached organic equivalency agreements with Canada, Japan, and most recently, the European Union.
Exports statistics to Europe don’t differentiate between organic and conventional food, said Amanda Welker, trade development manager at the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
However, anecdotal evidence suggests growing interest among U.S. producers in shipping to that continent since the deal was reached in 2012, she said.
“We do have more companies working in Europe than we have in the past,” she said.