WASHINGTON, March 6 – The United States has taken the first step in the World Trade Organization dispute settlement process, requesting consultations with India about India’s prohibition on imports of U.S. poultry and eggs. If India declines to relax its ban, the next step is appointment of a WTO panel to adjudicate the U.S. complaint.

India claims that its trade ban is aimed at preventing avian influenza, “but it has not provided scientific evidence in line with international standards on avian-influenza control,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement Tuesday announcing the complaint.

“India’s ban on U.S. poultry is clearly a case of disguising trade restrictions by invoking unjustified animal health concerns,” Kirk said. “The United States is the world’s leader in agricultural safety and we are confident that the WTO will confirm that India’s ban is unjustified. Opening India’s market to American farmers will promote jobs here at home, while also providing Indian consumers with access to high quality, safe U.S. products.”

USTR said that India has formally banned imports of various agricultural products from the United States since February 2007, supposedly to prevent avian influenza, even though the United States has not had an outbreak of high pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) since 2004. World Animal Health Organization standards for avian-influenza do not support imposition of import bans due to detections of low pathogenic strains found in the United States since 2004.

The WTO sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) agreement recognizes the right to adopt regulations to protect human, animal or plant life or health but requires WTO members to ensure that such regulations are not merely a cover for protectionism. USTR said that India “appears to have acted inconsistently with its WTO obligations in this case. In particular, India’s ban does not appear to be supported by scientific evidence or a valid risk assessment.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack issued a statement, saying that the announcement “demonstrates that the United States will help ensure that all of our trading partners play by the rules and uphold their WTO obligations. I am hopeful for a swift resolution that allows Indian consumers access to safe, high-quality U.S. poultry and poultry products, and restores the economic opportunities our American farmers have earned.”

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