Equivalency for Organic Trade

Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada

On the grocery shelf, a pineapple imported from Chile and certified to the “US Organic Standard” (NOP) bears the Canada organic logo. Welcome to the global organic market!

After having compared their regulatory systems, respective organic standards and having established  critical variances, Canada and the United States signed the US-Canada Organic Equivalency Arrangement (USCOEA) in June 2009.  The critical variances, the list of significant differences between the two standards which would have to be met by products crossing the border, were established as follows.  For a product certified to the NOP, the special requirements for entry into Canada are: 1) no use of chiliean nitrate during production; 2) no use of hydroponic or aeroponic production methods; and 3) compliance with Canadian livestock stocking rates, but since September 2011, ruminants stocking rates are no longer considered a critical variance.  Canadian products moving South into the U.S. must meet the Canadian Organic Standards (COS) and one additional Critical Variance: no use of antibiotics for livestock products.

Then, on June 24 2011, the European Union and Canada signed an equivalency agreement to allow trade of organic products between their territories; the Canada/EU agreement does not include any variances, the organic standards of both jurisdictions being considered very similar. This agreement allows Canada and the EU to import and export organic products without requiring an additional certification. The certified organic products can carry the Canadian and/or the EU organic logo.

This same principle applies to organic products traded between Canada and US – they can carry the Canadian and/or the US logo. Their certification in their country of origin remains valid, but must be completed by an equivalency certificate that verifies that the critical variances are respected.

The Canada/EU agreement applies to products grown and processed in Canada and to products grown and processed in the EU. For example, an organic broccoli grown in Mexico and certified to the COS would not be recognized as organic in the EU as per the Canada/EU Arrangement. The Canada/US Agreement is different, because certifying bodies accredited by the Canada Organic Office can provide certification to the terms of the Canada/US agreement outside of Canada to organic products exported to US. So, the organic broccoli grown in Mexico that is certified organic to the terms of the Canada/US Agreement could be exported as “organic” on the US market.

Other countries, such as Australia, Korea and Costa Rica, have also indicated their intention to negotiate with Canada. Americans are currently negotiating agreements on organic trade with India, Taiwan and Korea. So, equivalency is trendy! Canadian producers can already export to counties without an equivalency agreement by complying with the standard of the importing country.  But, a trade agreement between two countries makes things easier: producers can access both markets while only being certified to the COS.

The use of the Canadian organic logo on the label of imported organic products can seem confusing. To consumers, at first glance, the logo means spontaneously that the product is grown in Canada; so to see the logo affixed to the label of a Chilean pineapple can be surprising. In fact, the logo means that the product complies with the Canadian organic rules and standards, wherever it comes from. Logos are shared on the global scene, and  they should play a vital role in the growth of the organic market when reassuring consumers about the authenticity of the product displayed on shelves.  

Equivalency is sometimes considered as a double-edged sword: will it promote a massive importation of organic products that will stop the growth of the local organic production? The growing awareness of the “local” food and carbon footprint consciousness will surely support the growth of local organic production. Organic greenhouse production is developing and Canadian standards are now mandatory for products traded from one province to the other or on international markets.   It creates great expectations for organic growers and traders!

This article was written by Nicole Boudreau, Organic Federation of Canada, on behalf of the OACC with funding provided by Canada’s Organic Science Cluster (a part of the Canadian Agri-Science Clusters Initiative of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Growing Forward Policy Framework).  The Organic Science Cluster is a collaborative effort led jointly by the OACC, the Organic Federation of Canada and industry partners
. For more information: oacc@dal.ca or 902-893-7256.

Posted November 2011