WASHINGTON — The North American Millers’ Association on Oct. 5, with the support of the National Grain and Feed Association, raised objections to certain import certification requirements contained within the National Organic Program: Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule proposed by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP). Specifically, NAMA asserted a 30-day timeframe for certifying agents to review and approve an NOP import certificate is not workable for the grain milling industry.

“We support the intent of the proposed rule to further curtail fraudulent activities within the organic market,” said Jane DeMarchi, president of NAMA, in comments submitted to the NOP. “However, we are concerned that this proposed rule would have damaging unintended consequences on trade between the United States, Mexico, and Canada due to the conflict between the speed of commerce in North America and the framework laid out in this proposal for import certificates.”

Ms. DeMarchi noted the existing framework for import certificates only requires certificates for imports from six countries, all of which are overseas, and that information on shipping containers, vessels/voyages, and quantity is typically determined days or weeks before a vessel leaves port.

“In contrast, timelines and overall logistics of the proposed regulations do not translate to truck and/or rail trade from contiguous countries,” Ms. DeMarchi explained.

“Trailer numbers are often unknown until arrival for loading,” Ms. DeMarchi said. “The quantity of a commodity or ingredient departing a farm or facility in Canada is finalized when loading is complete, sometimes only hours before the product arrives at the border. The 30-day timeframe for certifying agents to review and issue a NOP import certificate is not appropriate for the grain milling industry.”

Ms. DeMarchi said as written, the proposed rule would give the certifier 30 days to issue a certificate, but  the importer must upload the certificate to the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) within 10 days of organic product crossing the border.

“Trucks cross the border within approximately two days of departure, and oftentimes sooner,” Ms. DeMarchi said. “Product could arrive at the US recipient without the required documentation, and the exporter’s certifier would still have 28 days to issue the import certificate. However, the recipient would only have 10 days to upload it. This misalignment of timelines will put undue burden on the recipient, despite the fact that they have no control or influence on the issuance of the certificate by the exporter’s certifier.”

When product arrives before the import certificate is issued, recipients will have to either segregate or hold products until import certificates are available or take the risk of accepting the product without the import certificate, Ms. DeMarchi added.

“Grain handling infrastructure and logistics are not set up for delays and holds of this type,” she said.  “Logistics of holding truckloads and railcars of commodities are extremely challenging and prohibitively expensive.”

Ms. DeMarchi said certifier capacity also is a major concern.

“Currently, most customers in the United States do not require organic import documentation of the type described in the proposed rule from Canadian suppliers,” she said. “For many, this is due to familiarity with suppliers and the existing equivalency arrangements. Under this proposed rule, a single pallet or bag of an organic product on a truck of wholesale ingredients or retail products would require an import certificate. Based on our member experiences, we are not at all confident that the Canadian certifiers will be able to go from issuing trivial numbers of export documents for US-bound shipments to issuing tens of thousands (conservatively) on an annual basis, particularly not in the short timeframes needed to support uninterrupted trade.”

NAMA suggested modifications to the NOP Import Certificate based on the primary mode of transport.

“Truck and rail transport should be eligible for multi-shipment certificates, similar to the ‘Multi-Shipment Transaction Certificate’ used by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS),” Ms. DeMarchi said. “This proven system has similar traceability expectations and is applied to commodities traded in large volumes. This suggests a similar system would be a workable solution for imports from contiguous North American trade partners.”

Ms. DeMarchai said it also would be useful to provide an allowance for pre-approved suppliers. She said disclosure and review of planned suppliers to the certifiers would result in a pre-approval. This could be limited to a set time period, volume of product, and a specific list of products, and would remove the need for an import certificate when buying from the established supplier. This information would then become part of the supply chain verification requirements for the certifier. Import certificates would still be required from new suppliers or when not included in the pre-approval framework (i.e., additional volume, new products, etc.), preserving the transparency and traceability of organic supply chains.

“Lastly, we request delayed enforcement with a phased implementation of the import certificate requirement for imports via truck and rail,” Ms. DeMarchi said. “This will allow additional time for adequate hiring of staff by certified operations and certifiers, development of electronic submission tools, and robust testing of the ACE system.”

 Delayed implementation for truck and rail imports would allow time for the system to first adapt to the higher volume of sea imports from additional countries.

“We propose delayed implementation by at least a year for rail imports and at least two years for truck imports,” Ms. DeMarchi said. “This would create a gradual increase in system use. Ideally, this delay would also allow time for NOP development and support of a system similar to the FDA Import Trade Auxiliary Communication System (ITACS) to check the status of the import certificate after it is requested and/or for submission of import certificate requests.”