Working Group on Enhancing Interoperability of VSS

This Working Group is implementing practical activities on harmonization, equivalence, benchmarking, and other forms of cross-platform cooperation. It is foreseen that these activities will produce models and case examples as references to scale up interoperability of voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). The Working Group is initially focused on standards schemes in organic agriculture and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and activities are organized in the following three tracks.

1. Organic Track

This track follows along the lines of preceding activities of the Global Organic Market Access (GOMA) Project, which promoted harmonization, equivalence and other forms of cooperation among VSS in the organic sector with particular focus on interoperability of government organic standards schemes and consequent reduction of barriers to organic trade. A review of GOMA and its predecessor, the International Task Force on Harmonization and Equivalence in Organic Agriculture (ITF) is available here. Two practical tools for harmonization and equivalence, which were produced by ITF and GOMA, are now promoted and made available through UNFSS to scale up harmonization, equivalence and mutual recognition among the many organic regulations that impact trade.

This track is currently supporting the development of an ASEAN Standard for Organic Agriculture and models for recognition in the context of the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

The working group also monitors and reports on the development of new and revised organic regulations and equivalence arrangements.

Proposals from governments and regional organizations for technical assistance on harmonization and equivalence of organic standards and technical regulations, including related regulatory protocols are invited.


Diane Bowen, UNFSS WG Coordinator,

Organic Track Advisory Team

Dr. Ulrich Hoffmann, UNCTAD/UNFSS
Mr. Matthew Holmes, Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) / IFOAM World Board
Ms. Beate Huber, Institute for Organic Research, FiBL
Mr. Ming Liu, APEX-Brazil

Reference Documents

Bilateral Equivalence Arrangements on Trade of Organic Products: a review of processes leading to arrangements between Canada and United States, Canada and European Union and European Union and United States

Guide for Assessing Equivalence of Organic Standards and Technical Regulations (EquiTool) (ENGLISH)

International Requirements for Organic Standards and Technical Regulations (IROCB) (ENGLISH)

Guide for Assessing Equivalence of Organic Standards and Technical Regulations (SPANISH)

International Requirements for Organic Certification Bodies, (SPANISH)

Common Objectives and Requirements for Organic Standards (COROS)  (ENGLISH)

COROS Worksheets (ENGLISH)

Common Objectives and Requirements for Organic Standards (COROS) (SPANISH)

These documents are available on the GOMA website here.

2. Organic-GAP Track

This track supports the cooperative activities of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and FoodPlus, owner of the GlobalG.A.P. scheme, to reduce the inspection burden on certified organic farmers who are also certified or seeking GlobalG.A.P. certification. The initial aim of the cooperation is to develop a streamlined GlobalG.A.P. inspection checklist that can be applied in inspection of farming operations certified to the EU organic regulation. The partners are currently updating an Interpretive Guidance for GlobalG.A.P. Version Three to Version Four. It is foreseen that an adapted inspection checklist will then be developed and field- tested, and a Guidance Manual prepared.

In the long term, it is envisioned that a complementary “Organic-Plus” module comprised of basic requirements for food and worker safety will be developed and offered as add-on standards for organic certification which provide assurance on these topics in organic supply chains.

It is also envisioned that the organic/GlobalG.A.P. adapted checklist will catalyze and serve as a model for future streamlining of other organic and GAP inspection schemes.


Ms. Diane Bowen, UNFSS WG Coordinator,

Steering Group

Dr. Ulrich Hoffmann, UNCTAD/UNFSS
Ms. Kerstin Uhlig, FoodPlus/GlobalG.A.P.
Mr. Friedrich Luedeke, FoodPlus/GlobalG.A.P
Mr. Moses Muwanga, National Organic Agricultural Organization of Uganda (NOGAMU)
Mr. David Gould, IFOAM
Ms. Diane Bowen, IFOAM/UNFSS WG

3. GAP Track

A multitude of GAP schemes exist at commercial, national (government), regional and global levels. The objectives and potential benefits and costs of these schemes are often not transparent and benchmarking among them is needed. The result of this situation is that producers and other supply chain participants are often confused and burdened by high transaction costs in assessing options for GAP certification. A case in point exists in South-East Asia, where both country-based commercial and national GAP standards operate, GlobalG.A.P. certification is applied for food products entering European supply chains or sold domestically to Europe-based retail chains. Furthermore, recently an ASEAN GAP has been developed in the context of the ASEAN Economic Community, which will serve as a reference point and benchmark to nationally-run public GAP programmes.

The Working Group’s GAP Track will initially support initiatives in the ASEAN member state context to rationalize and benchmark multiple GAP standards.


Dr. Ulrich Hoffmann, UNCTAD/UNFSS,
Ms. Diane Bowen, UNFSS WG Coordinator,

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