C2.7: International trade

C2.7.1 Introduction

International trade includes two different types of trade:

  • imports and exports from outside the EU, and
  • trade within the EU.

There are around 1.600 approved importers in the EU, which are mostly located in Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden and France (Sanders, 2013).

Availability of both types of such data in Europe is currently very low, with only very few countries publishing such data. Further details on international trade data can be found in several case studies of the report by Gerrard et al. (2014). 

The organic regulations set out procedures for importing organic products from non EU countries into the EU, which are enforced as part of the customs rules. It specifies essentially two different approaches:

  1. Production and control requirements comply exactly with Regulation (EC) No 834/2007. This compliance approach is not yet implemented and the detailed rules are currently under discussion. 
  2. Production rules and control requirements are equivalent to the EU rules. Equivalency is recognised either by bilateral agreements between countries or by control bodies being directly approved and supervised for this purpose by the European Commission.

For a transitional period until 1 July 2014, equivalence could also be confirmed by Member States authorities to importers using import authorisation, which were widely used under the previous organic Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91 (Sanders, 2013). EU Member States have been granting around 4000 import authorisations annually (European Court of Auditors, 2012).

Table C.2-4: Import data collection methods

Methods (example)Trade typeComments
Import estimates (volumes) of importers/control bodies for organic import authorisations (DE, CZ)Imports from non-compliant countries onlyOnly a prediction, no real values/volumes
Data from customs  
(IT, FR)
Import from non-compliant countries onlyCollaboration with customs authorities essential
Importers’ self –declaration (IT)Import from compliant countries/ non-compliant countriesSo far only used in Italy
Surveys  among importers (DE, IT)All importsIn Italy currently applied only for imports from countries on the third country list and non-compliant countries
In Germany applied to a sample of organic importers
Panel data (DE)All importsOnly if country of origin declared in the product description
Foreign trade statistics (DE, DK)All foreign tradePublished data in DK based on data submitted by organic exporters and importers (for intra EU trade) and customs (for Third countries).
For all other foreign trade statistics: No common organic identifier.

 Source: Gerrard et al. (2014)

C2.7.2 Approaches

The following methods are described in more detail in this section. 

  • using customs data,
  • surveys of importers and exporters.

The most effective approach of getting international trade statistics data for organic products - for trade within the EU and outside the EU - is the integration of an organic indicator in the international trade statistics in the countries. All companies are obliged to deliver data on exports and imports per to the national statistical offices every month. They use the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC). Up to now, organic and conventional items are not differentiated in most countries. Only in Denmark an additional indicator for organic and conventional products was introduced many years ago. Thus, the statistical office can show organic imports and exports by organic product and country of origin or destination - and directly can compare it to the conventional product – see: http://www.statbank.dk/statbank5a/default.asp?w=1280

Until now there is no other country that uses this additional digit – mainly because it requires amendments in law or seems to be complicated for the responsible agencies. The OrganicDataNetwork strongly recommends using this approach as it covers Extra- und Intra-EU-trade in a comparably easy way.

C2 7.2.1 Using international trade statistics

The most effective approach of getting international trade statistics data for organic products - for trade within the EU and outside the EU - is the integration of an organic indicator in the international trade statistics in the countries. All companies are obliged to deliver data on exports and imports per to the national statistical offices every month. They use the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC). Up to now, organic and conventional items are not differentiated in most countries. Only in Denmark an additional indicator for organic and conventional products was introduced many years ago. Thus, the statistical office can show organic imports and exports by organic product and country of origin or destination - and directly can compare it to the conventional product – see: http://www.statbank.dk/statbank5a/default.asp?w=1280
Until now there is no other country that uses this additional digit – mainly because it requires amendments in law or seems to be complicated for the responsible agencies. The OrganicDataNetwork strongly recommends using this approach as it covers Extra- und Intra-EU-trade in a comparably easy way.

C2.7.2.2 Using data from customs authorities

Data on import from and export to countries outside the EU is generally collected by the customs authorities, which make use of the EU’s TARIC classification that is used for customs data (European Commission 2014). However these data are not generally made public and do not necessarily record whether or not the product is organic. Exports and imports within the EU are not covered.  

Customs data have been used to develop organic trade statistics in several countries. The main challenge in using such data to analyse international trade in organic products is that there is no "organic product identifier". Whether a product is organic or not is not always recorded within the customs documentation or the data.

It is likely that the use of custom data will be affected by changes to the organic import regime. 

  • Example
    The Italian Ministry of Agriculture collates data for imports into Italy from outside the EU. An organic identifier is included in Box 44 of the Single Administrative Document (SAD) and importers have to fill in a self-declaration of volumes (see Italian case study in Gerrard et al. 2014).

C2.7.2.3 Survey of importers and exporters

An alternative approach for collecting data on international trade is to survey various organic operators (importers, exporters, organic producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers) regarding the amounts that they import/export. This has the advantage that it will give data on intra-EU trade as well as trade outside the EU.
The main challenges are:

  • the coverage may be not full if the contact details of the population of organic importers and exporters are not accessible,
  • the response rate may be low if answering to the survey is not made mandatory by a public authority. 
  • Examples
    Both, Agence Bio from France and the Agricultural Information Company (AMI) from Germany use importer surveys. The approach was more straightforward for Agence Bio as they could identify and contact all the main organic market operators using the notification system. For AMI this was more difficult. It was estimated that the survey was only sent to one third of all importers but to 90 % of the importers of the investigated products. Of those only one third responded. The Czech Republic also carried out a survey of actors within the organic market, which could be used to provide data on international trade especially within the EU.

C2.7.3 Concluding remarks

There is growing importance of international trade with organic products, so further effort should be made to collect such data. 

Information on trade with countries outside the EU can be obtained by using customs data. A further source of information can be export data from the countries of origin: some of which have details about products and destinations (i.e. the export statistics from several countries belonging to the Mediterranean Organic Agriculture Network and from Argentina, Peru and Costa Rica). 

At present, data on intra-EU trade remain far more difficult to obtain because of the single market. Many companies record the countries of origin or, for exports, the destination of the products.

One possible source of information for import data might be household panels if the origin of the product were reported. Within the EU, retailers need to inform their customers about the country of origin for the products sold.

In many ways, the best way forward for producing statistical data on organic international trade would be to integrate data collection of organic trade with existing trade statistics. This would require differentiating between organic and conventional products in the national export/import statistics, as is currently done in Denmark and, partially, in Italy. The main advantage of this approach is that it can cover both trade types (intra-EU and trade with countries outside the EU) and will allow for easy comparison between organic and general trade flow.

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