The new EU organic regulation, which entered into force in 2022, involves a complete overhaul of the trade regime for organics. The list of control authorities & control bodies as well as the third countries recognised by the EU for the purpose of ‘equivalence’ will expire end 2024 and 2026 respectively. A brand-new trade regime, based on ‘compliance’ and ‘mutual recognition’ will apply as of then.

New EU trade regime

This major shake-up of the trade system will tremendously affect EU organic stakeholders, from brands willing to expand internationally to processing companies sourcing core ingredients outside Europe. It will also impact our trading partners, from performing North American exporters to the thousand of smallholders in Asia, Latin America and Africa whose livehood rely on the access to the EU marketplace.

For OPTA Europe, this shift represents an opportunity to consolidate longstanding trading partnerships and also to expand organics worldwide, but only if some principles are respected:

Firstly, predictability and sufficient transitional periods are necessary for growers, importers, exporters and processors to anticipate the changes, make informed decisions and organize the necessary adjustments. For example, the list of recognized control authorities and control bodies for the ‘compliance’ import regime must be known several months before it enters into force. Likewise, the reciprocal equivalence agreements with major trading partners and high potential ones (US, Japan, Canada, India) must go through the EU ratification process sufficiently in advance to be in place by the 2027 deadline.

Secondly, the reciprocal organic equivalence agreements with third countries are a welcome step forward to open new markets for EU organic products. To maximize the export opportunities, the future trade agreements must overcome the variances between standards that are considered ‘critical’ -thus unacceptable- (such as antibiotics in veterinary treatment) and to address those regulatory divergences (such as nutrient fortification) that prevent some EU organic products to reach key export markets.

If properly structured and implemented, the new organic trade regime is a timely opportunity to scale up relations with international partners

Critical variances and regulatory divergences between standards must be overcome so that all EU organic products without exception can benefit from the export opportunities.

Thirdly, the continuity of imports of organic ingredients must be integrated. Given the limited sourcing alternatives under organic quality, imports are essential for EU manufacturers to ensure a consistent and reliable supply that spans various growing conditions and seasons; let alone organic companies processing raw material that are not grown in the EU such as cocoa or coffee. To avoid imports disruption, the controls on ‘compliance’ at EU borders and in origin must be proportional, fit for purpose and non discriminatory of imported products as compared to EU ones.

“Given the limited sourcing alternatives, it is essential to secure the imports of organic raw materials that EU companies need for their production processes”, said Stefan Hipp, president of OPTA Europe.

Finally, the ‘equivalency’ trade talks are an opportunity to set up a structured cooperation with likeminded partners such as US or Canada, to jointly promote organics worldwide. We also see the switch towards the ‘compliance’ regime as an occasion for the EU to transfer knowledge and offer technical assistance to emerging countries, to support them in the development of organics.

If properly structured and implemented, the new organic trade regime is a timely opportunity to scale up relations with international partners on the front lines of using agriculture to combat climate change and boost biodiversity. We are optimistic about the opportunities to collaborate with longstanding and new partners to develop organics around the world.

  • Join the joint OPTA Europe – FiBL panel ‘The new EU trade regime for organics’ Biofach Congress–15 February 13h30 in St Petersburg room

Author: Aurora Abad, OPTA Europe Secretary General

Published in the BIOFACH & VIVANESS 2024 Bio Eco Actual Special Edition.

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