India is ready to allow imports of U.S. pork, removing a long-running trade irritant between the two countries, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday. 

“This new opportunity marks the culmination of nearly two decades of work to gain market access for U.S. pork to India – and it signals positive movement in U.S.-India trade relations,” said Vilsack.  “We will continue working with the Indian government to ensure that the U.S. pork industry can begin shipping its high-quality products to consumers as soon as possible.”

India’s barriers to U.S. pork were a major irritation when the U.S. disqualified India in 2019 to participate in the Generalized System of Preferences program, which 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.

Much of India’s population is vegetarian, but the country is still expected to import millions of dollars of U.S. pork to meet the demand of hotels and restaurants.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation said Monday in a statement that its research shows there are plenty of customers in India eager to buy U.S. pork.

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“While the volumes of imported pork currently entering India are quite small, USMEF sees long-term potential in the retail, processing and foodservice sectors, as well as emerging opportunities in e-commerce,” the group said.

India showed the first signs of willingness to drop its barriers to U.S. pork after Tai participated in a trade meeting in New Delhi in November.

The U.S. has been demanding for years that India accept the standard 9060-5 Food Safety and Inspection health certificate for U.S. meat, but the country continuously pushed back, demanding additional criteria that were unacceptable to U.S. negotiators and U.S. industry representatives. Now, India is accepting that standard form provided by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

“After decades of work, a market that had been closed to U.S. pork is being opened,” said National Pork Producers Council President Jen Sorenson. “We look forward to the new access, which will allow us to provide affordable, wholesome and nutritious U.S. pork products to consumers in India.”