India has blocked the imports of U.S. pork for years, demanding trade that the U.S. was unwilling to accept, but the Asian country is now promising to end the regulatory delays, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

A U.S. statement released after USTR Katherine Tai participated in a meeting in New Delhi says India “agreed to work to finalize the mutually agreed export certificate to allow the importation of U.S. pork and pork products.”

India's promise could pave the way for millions of dollars’ worth of U.S. pork exports. India’s population is largely vegetarian, but the massive country’s hotel and restaurants are dependent on imports of the meat.

“India for years has had a de facto ban on U.S. pork despite having access to the U.S. market for its pork,” Maria Zeiba, the National Pork Producers Council's assistant vice president of international affairs, tells Agri-Pulse. “We are encouraged by the talks between the United States and India and hope an export certificate for pork can be finalized soon.”

The U.S. has been demanding that India accept the standard 9060-5 Food Safety and Inspection health certificate for U.S. meat, but India has been steadfast in insisting that additional criteria be added. Those additional criteria include what NPPC calls “a scientifically unjustified ban on ruminant feeding” and “trichinae-related restrictions on pork imports.”

In a 2018 submission for USTR's review of India's qualification for the Generalized System of Preferences program, NPPC said that country “imposes trichinae-related restrictions on U.S. pork even though there has not been a single case of trichinosis detected in the U.S. commercial herd in well over a decade.”

India lost its GSP designation in 2019 during the Trump administration. GSP gives foreign countries limited tariff-free access to the U.S. market. Congress allowed GSP to expire last year, but lawmakers are now seeking to reauthorize the program.

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Zeiba said India’s intransigence on export certificates for pork was one factor in the country’s loss of its GSP status.

Reps. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., and Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, and 73 other lawmakers sent a letter Friday to Tai, asking her to negotiate agreements with India that would allow the country to regain its GSP status once Congress reauthorizes the program.

Indian pork imports declined last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the country previously imported about 5 million worth of the meat in 2019 from countries like Belgium.

“The United States produces high-quality, affordable and safe pork, so we’re in a good position to enter the Indian market, particularly in the hotel-restaurant industry sector,” Zeiba said.

India also agreed during the New Delhi trade forum to finalize paperwork to open the country to U.S. cherries and alfalfa hay, according to the USTR. The Biden administration agreed to complete work on India’s request to export table grapes to the United States.