Japan, U.S. agree to swap organic imports

WASHINGTON — The United States and Japan have agreed to make it easier to import each other’s organic products.

The Agriculture Department announced Thursday that organic products certified in Japan or in the United States may be sold as organic in either country. The agreement will allow producers to sell in both countries without going through the lengthy process of getting certified twice.

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. The main Japanese imports to the United States are organic green tea, sake and mushrooms.

In agreeing to the deal, Japan dropped its objections to two substances allowed in U.S. organic foods that are not allowed in Japanese organic foods.

While most of the two countries’ organic standards are the same, Japan has not allowed its organics to be produced with ligonum sulfonate, a substance used in post-harvest fruit production, or alkali-extracted humic acid, a fertilizer used to help grow a variety of organic crops. The United States allows those substances.

Annual organic sales to Japan from the United States now total around $80 million, and USDA estimates the new agreement could more than triple that amount to $250 million a year over the next 10 years.

“This partnership reflects the strength of the USDA organic standards, allowing American organic farmers, ranchers, and businesses to access Asia’s largest organic market,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

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