WASHINGTON - The United States and Japan have agreed to make it easier to import each other's organic products, the latest step in a global effort that could give consumers access to more - and cheaper - organic food.
The Agriculture Department announced an agreement Thursday between the United States and Japan that will allow organic products to be certified in one of the countries and be sold as organic in both. The agreement will allow producers to sell their products in both countries without going through the lengthy process of getting certified twice.
The agreement is similar to a 2009 deal with Canada and a 2012 deal with the European Union. Agriculture officials say they are looking at agreements with other countries - South Korea, and possibly India, Brazil and Mexico down the road - that could also make it easier for U.S. organic farmers to sell abroad.
The result could be a flow of new products to the U.S. market and higher profits for U.S. organic producers. According to USDA, the most popular organic imports from Japan are green tea, organic sakes and organic mushrooms. The department said the Canadian agreement has increased exported organic grains to the United States, and the European pact has increased sales of their organic wines and olive oils in the U.S.
The United States exports many more organics to Japan than it imports from the country, and officials say the agreement will be a boost for the burgeoning U.S. industry, one of the fastest-growing sectors of agriculture. Organics have seen sales rise around 4 percent to 5 percent a year and now account for more than $30 billion in annual sales.
Japan imports a wide variety of organics from the United States, including soybeans, specialty crops like cauliflower and nuts, and processed products like frozen meals. Under the agreement, U.S. organic products sold there will now carry the USDA organic seal.
Annual organic sales to Japan from the United States now total around $80 million, and the USDA estimates the new agreement could more than triple that amount to $250 million a year over the next 10 years.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the agreement will create "good jobs for Americans across the organic supply chain."