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  • Importing organic coffee into Europe

     
     

    Regulation. In the European Union, the market for certified organic food is regulated by Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 and subsequent amendments thereto. All major European certifying organizations are subject to this regulation although in some respects some, such as Naturland in Germany, apply stricter standards. For more information see also www.ifoam.org.

    Equal values. The international trade in organic products and regulations for their certification are based on equivalence or ‘equal values’. That is to say, organic products imported into the EU must have been produced in accordance with standards that are equivalent to those applicable within the EU itself. This is clearly stated in Article 33 of EC 834/2007. But equivalence is not always interpreted in the same way, for example when an individual competent body insists on the foreign standard being identical, rather than equivalent, to the corresponding EU regulation. In some instances such differences could be considered as non-tariff or technical trade barriers.

    The same article provides that a non-EU country can be approved by the European Commission if its production system complies with principles and inspection measures, equivalent to those laid down in EC 834/2007. Such a country is then added to a list of approved countries.

    Accreditation of certification organizations. The European standard known as EN 45011, as well as the corresponding ISO 65 guide both stipulate that certification organizations should be accredited by a recognized accreditation body. Therefore, aspiring exporters of organic coffee to the European Union should verify that

    • the proposed certifying organization has an EN 45011/ISO 65 accreditation which they should be able to submit on request. It is important to note that the European Union does not recognize certifiers who certify clients against organic standards that do not conform to EU specifications. For example, the use of sodium nitrate is permitted by some non-EU certifiers but is prohibited under EU regulations.
    • the proposed certifier can certify directly against EU regulations (because a certifier may certify against a number of different standards).

    Importation and inspection: Aspiring exporters should satisfy themselves that the proposed importer is fully aware of and follows the required European Union customs documentation, i.e. that importer is certified against EU regulations. But exporters must also be aware of the fact that for each shipment EU customs will demand to see an original inspection or control certificate (formerly called transaction certificate) for verification and endorsement. Therefore, exporters must apply for these on time because without such documentation EU customs will only clear a shipment as conventional coffee.

    Inspection certificates are issued by the certifying body and this is where the earlier inspection of production capacity comes in, i.e. the master certificate that was issued by the certifier to confirm the seller’s authenticity and capacity. At the end of a year it can then be seen whether the total exports for which inspection or control certificates were issued correspond with the production capacity stated in the master certificate.

    Once cleared through European Union customs the organic product enjoys free movement to other member states. But when all or part of a consignment is to be re-exported as organic to a destination outside the European Union then, depending on the country of destination, the original European Union importer may have to obtain a new inspection certificate from a competent European Union certifying organization. Not by law but because the market requires it.

    EU organic production logo.
    Most certifying bodies have their own quality labels and as a result many different labels exist in the European Union for the designation of organic products. Increasing trade within the European Union in roasted coffee therefore forces roasters to display several labels on their retail packets, an arrangement that does not provide the clarity one would expect.

    Regulation EC 834/2007 now stipulates that the EU organic production logo shall be obligatory for all organic pre-packaged food produced within the Community. However, the simultaneous use of national or private logos shall not be prevented.

    For more information on organic certification and regulations in the EU, in addition to www.ifoam.org, also visit to http://www.intracen.org/exporters/sectors/. Click on Organic Products and then Certification. The site also provides a useful glossary of organic certification concepts.

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