WTO rules in favor of U.S. in poultry dispute with India

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 14, 2014 - The World Trade Organization has ruled in favor of the United States in a dispute with India, a decision that U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman called a major step towards export of poultry, eggs, and other agricultural products to the world's second most populated country.

The dispute originated in 2007 when India blocked importation of poultry and eggs citing concerns about the spread of low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI). India said it was LPAI, which had been found in the U.S., could mutate into high pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). A case of HPAI has not been recorded in the U.S. since 2004. During that same period, India has had more than 90 HPAI outbreaks.

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Froman called the WTO panel's ruling a “major victory for America's farmers,” and said he was pleased to see science play a heavy role in the outcome.

“The WTO panel agreed with the U.S. case that India lacks any scientific basis to restrict U.S. agricultural products, including U.S. poultry products.  Our farmers produce the finest - and safest - agricultural products in the world,” Froman said in a statement. “This victory affirms the administration's commitment to ensuring WTO members play by the rules, and that America's farmers, workers and businesses get the fair shot they deserve to sell ‘Made-in-America' goods under WTO rules.”

In a conference call with reporters, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said American producers deserve a level playing field, and that the way this dispute was resolved “reflects that we will accept nothing less.”

“(Trade measures) need to be based on international standards and the scientific process if we're really, truly dealing with health and food safety concerns,” Vilsack said, adding his belief that the U.S. has “one of the most comprehensive food safety and animal health surveillance and diagnostic systems in the world.”

House Agriculture Committee Vice Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said he hopes other countries take note of the ruling.

“The WTO ruling makes it clear that countries cannot restrict trade without sufficient scientific evidence,” Goodlatte said. “For too long, India and other countries have used avian influenza as a trade barrier despite there being no scientifically defensible reason for continuation of a ban. Hopefully this ruling will send a strong signal to any other countries that seek to unfairly restrict trade with the U.S. that the WTO will not tolerate member countries imposing artificial trade barriers.”

Goodlatte said poultry exports to India could exceed $300 million once trade barriers are lifted.

Rep. John Carney, D-Del., said “poultry is king” in his state, but this ruling will benefit producers across the country by opening up a huge market of potential customers.

“India has a billion consumers, which represents a huge and growing market for our poultry, and ensuring that they abide by science-based standards is a big win,” Carney said.

A USTR official said this could be a landmark decision as the U.S. is engaged in other similar disputes around the world brought about by what they consider unscientific concerns based on diseases such as Mad Cow Disease.

Under WTO rules, both parties are given 60 days to appeal the ruling, and a USTR official said it is unlikely the U.S. will appeal, meaning any appeal would have to come from India. If that happens, the WTO will engage in an appellate process that lasts about four months, before another ruling will be issued.

If India decides not to appeal or if it should lose on appeal, WTO guidelines provide a “reasonable period of time” to implement the decision, meaning there is no set date for imports to begin.  

"We recognize that work remains to open India's market - but this ruling is an important step toward securing that objective,” USA Poultry & Egg Export Council President James Sumner and National Chicken Council President Michael Brown said in a joint statement. “We hope that the new Indian administration will be amenable to working with the U.S. government and industry to remove all restrictions and allow access for U.S. poultry in the near future."

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