U.S. Organic Worldwide: New report analyzes organic imports and exports through 2016

The U.S. is the largest organic market in the world representing more than half of all consumer sales for organic products globally. Consumers now enjoy all types of organic products from apples to ziti, but this abundance and variety are not possible without trade. The global organic industry continues to grow, with over $81.6 billion USD in 2015. According to FiBL, over 179 countries around the world have organic activities with over 2.4 million organic producers worldwide. As the global industry matures, the importance of trade and tracking increases.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has led the U.S. organic industry to increased oversight and tracking of international organic trade data through requesting and analyzing Schedule B and Harmonized Tariff Schedule codes (HS codes) through the 484(f) committee of the United States International Trade Commission. OTA collaborated with Penn State University and Ohio State University to release “U.S. Organic Trade 2011 – 2016.” It’s an updated qualitative and quantitative analysis of the data for organic products contained in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS) collected from HS code records. USDA first added data for trade in organic products to this system in 2011.  As of January 2017, there were 41 export and 47 import Harmonized System (HS) codes. Five new codes will be added to the system later this year. 

The full report analyzes information from 2011 through 2016 for the values, quantities and prices of organic exports and imports. Product-by-product reports on the top five products of organic exports and imports include information on non-organic product counterparts. The report also includes an overview of organic equivalency arrangements in the world and their impacts on organic trade and export success stories. 


The USDA GATS data cover organic export products representing $547.7 million in 2016. This figure compares to more than $6.02 billion in non-organic exports for the same products. The share of organic exports relative to total (organic plus non-organic) exports has increased from 7.1% in 2011 to 8.3% in 2016. In dollar value, organic apples, lettuce, grapes, strawberries and spinach are the top five organic exports representing 55% of the value of U.S. organic exports in 2016.

Sixty-one percent of U.S. organic exports enter U.S. organic equivalency partners, and 21% of U.S. organic imports come from countries with equivalencies. The U.S. exports organic products to at least 104 different countries. The main recipients of these exports were Canada and Mexico.

East Asia and the Middle East continue to gain market importance. For example, the value of measured organic exports to the United Arab Emirates substantially increased during 2012- 2015 from $1.2 million to $14.4  million.  See the accompanying map of U.S. organic export destinations.


Organic import products in the USDA GATS data represent over $1.7 billion in 2016. This figure compares to more than $18.28 billion in non-organic imports for the same 23 products. The share of organic imports in total imports grew by 2.1%, from 6.4% to 8.5%, during 2011-2016. Organic coffee, soybeans, bananas, olive oil and corn are the top organic imports. They represent 68% of the value of organic imports in 2016. See the accompanying graphic breaking down the countries of origin for U.S. organic coffee imports.

The U.S. imports organic products from at least 111 different countries. Mexico is the leading supplier of organic products to the U.S. Since 2013, a little over half of all the U.S. organic imports came from North and South America. Imports from Mexico and Canada represent $324 million annually on average. Imports from South America represent $423 million annually on average from five main countries: Peru ($92.9 million), Ecuador ($71.6 million), Colombia ($64.4 million), Brazil ($64.1 million) and Argentina ($55.3 million). As with exports, proximity is clearly a major factor when it comes to trade of organic products. 

The complete report is available for download at OTA.com/tradedata. 

New HS codes are approved

The HS code submission submitted by the Organic Trade Association in March has resulted in the approval of five new organic HS codes! There will now be an organic export code for baby food (under Schedule B 2005.10.0000 and 2007.10.0000). In addition, there will be organic import codes added to HTS for oats under 1004.90.00, for quinoa under 1008.50.00, and for soybean flour under 1208.10.00.

Formal submission requests for new codes are accepted twice a year. Anyone can submit a new 10-digit statistical category through the submission request process. However, there are three key requirements for a new code request to be considered:

 • There must be at least three importers or exporters.

 • Trade must be consistently publishable on a monthly basis.

 • The minimum level of trade must be $1 million per year for each requested statistical breakout.

The review committee approves and denies code requests based on the following three criteria:

 • Nomenclature: The description should accurately reflect the product and the intent of the request.

 • Administrability: Customs must be able to administer the new annotation.

 • Disclosure: Data for any new statistical annotation must be publishable under Census rules for protecting Confidential Business Information.

HTS codes provide valuable information enabling the organic industry to understand international market behavior, develop policy priorities, compare with conventional competitors, and reference official government data for negotiations. To date, the Organic Trade Association has submitted all applications for organic HS codes in existence. The Organic Trade Association submits two requests each year for more and more organic codes. However, existing codes only cover a fraction of the organic export/import picture. Industry support is needed to add more codes to the U.S. HTS system.  The association welcomes input from trade in creating new codes. Please e-mail mmarez@ota.com to learn more.  //

Monique Marez is the Organic Trade Association’s Director of International Trade (mmarez@ota.com).