A Florida grapefruit by any other name would surely taste as sweet. Recently, agencies across the U.S. Government worked with representatives of the Florida grapefruit industry to protect the grapefruit industry while underscoring the value of U.S. engagement in international organizations. A proposed entry of an Inspection Manual by the European-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development Scheme on Agricultural Quality (OECD Scheme) initially threatened specific U.S. grapefruit exports to the European Union (EU), which buys one of every two exported grapefruits in the world.
The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) interpretive brochures serve as the handbook for all national produce inspection agencies within the EU as well as for many other countries. When the new interpretive brochure rejected grapefruit with a certain kind of surface skin defect or discoloring (which naturally occur in tropical and subtropical regions like Florida), U.S. grapefruit growers could have faced a serious challenge. Last year, the United States exported 20 percent of the world’s grapefruit, $47.7 million of which went to the European Union!
Experts from the U.S. citrus industry have been working with an OECD Technical Working Group to ensure that the brochure included sub-tropical grapefruit. When the draft failed to include photos and explanatory language for surface defects associated with sub-tropical zones (such as Florida), the USDA and the Florida Citrus industry worked closely with the OECD Scheme to plan a meeting in Geneva to revisit the issue in May 2010. “A technical rule in a brochure could have cost real jobs and exports in the Florida grapefruit industry,” says U.S. Ambassador to the OECD Karen Kornbluh. “We could not let this stand.” At the meeting, the U.S. government and the citrus industry presented its position on the interpretive brochure, and after a lively debate, the U.S. position was adopted.
The United States is both a founding member of the OECD, an international organization composed of 32 democratic countries with market-based economies, and of a separate organization – the OECD Scheme – from which the U.S. subsequently withdrew. The OECD seeks to achieve a higher standard of living in member countries as well as engage non-members to contribute to the development of the world economy. Through its public policy research, ‘soft law,’ and peer reviews, the OECD–which turns 50 years old later this year– provides the U.S. with an opportunity to engage other countries on economic regulatory issues.