If an equivalency agreement isn't drawn up and agreed to before Jan.1, U.S. organic exports to Korea could be halted, a group of legislators says, jeopardizing a growing trade relationship between the two nations.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and 12 Senate colleagues submitted a letter to Korean Ambassador Ahn Ho-Young Dec. 10 expressing concern about the market closure. The Senators asked 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.
Negotiations regarding organic trade between the U.S. and Korea have been ongoing since 2009, when the Korean Ag Ministry issued a series of regulations affecting organic production, labeling and enforcement. The rules were to take effect Jan. 1, 2010, but the Ministry delayed the regulations' implementation on complaints from the U.S. government and organic industry, as well as other partners, including Canada and the EU.
However, in May 2012, the Korean legislature passed a new Organic Act to take effect in 2014, which only covers processed products. As a result, 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.
In their letter, then Senators said that even though the regulations allow U.S. suppliers to be certified organic by Korean standards, many U.S. businesses cannot comply with the new standards by Dec. 31.
In addition, the USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative have said that Korea is unwilling to negotiate an equivalency agreement until January, 2014, after the regulations take effect. This, the Senators said, will cause an unnecessary disruption of trade.
"Unless the Republic of Korea government acts quickly to allow the continued importation and sale of U.S. organic products as they are sold today, the stream of commerce will come to a stop before the year is over," the Senators warned.
According to Laura Batcha, Organic Trade Association executive vice president, "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."
Senator Feinstein was joined by Senators 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-Penn., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.