Over the past decade, the production and market share of organic agriculture has increased globally, with significant growth in South and Central America. In 2008, the Inter-American Commission for Organic Agriculture (ICOA) was founded to support organic agriculture in the Americas and facilitate the trade of organic products.
ICOA consists of agriculture officials from 18 member countries in Latin America and aims to harmonize organic standards, strengthen control systems and support market development in Latin America. The United States sources many organic products from Latin America including bananas, apples, pears, wine, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, coffee, mangoes, papayas, winter vegetables and more.
Last week, I traveled to Panama City, Panama to meet with representatives from Latin and Central America. This was the first time that USDA participated in ICOA. We covered topics including international organic trade arrangements and systems for reviewing and approving inputs – such as fertilizers and other soil amendments – in organic production and handling.
Many Latin American countries are interested in building ties with the United States through organic agriculture. They are interested in trade opportunities, equivalency arrangements and technical assistance. The ICOA countries include both countries with very sophisticated organic programs (such as Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil and Costa Rica) and those whose organic programs are under development. Internal organic markets are growing significantly in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.
USDA works aggressively to break down barriers to trade, and assists U.S. farmers and businesses with the resources needed to reach consumers in a global marketplace. In fact, under this Administration, the United States has established organic trade arrangements with Canada, the European Union, Japan and Korea. These arrangements streamline access to international organic markets for American producers and businesses, benefiting the thriving organic sector and supporting jobs and businesses on a global scale. At the same time, they protect the integrity of the organic seal and allow American consumers to have confidence that organic food meets USDA’s high standards, even if it comes from another country.
Through the National Organic Program, part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA has helped organic farmers and businesses achieve $35 billion annually in U.S. retail sales. The organic community includes over 25,000 organic businesses in more than 120 different countries around the world, and the combined organic markets of the countries with which we have equivalency arrangements are valued at more than $50 billion. Latin America has great potential for future partnerships.
USDA supports greater harmonization of organic regulatory systems to support market development on a global level. ICOA is a catalyst that promotes the necessary dialogue between the United States and the Western Hemisphere on this growing global market.