For years India has placed a ban on importing poultry products from the United States, effectively shutting the country out of what could potentially be a multimillion-dollar business opportunity. Last week, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack expressed frustration with the trade barriers that have come up against the U.S. within recent years. Now, the USDA has taken official action by formally challenging India’s poultry ban before the World Trade Organization.
According to Food Safety News, India has justified its ban against U.S. poultry products as part of a blanket ban on any country that has had reported even low-pathogenic incidents of avian influenza – and, among others, that includes the United States. The World Organization for Animal Health, on the other hand, states that such precautions are only necessary in the case of high-pathogenic strains. In a statement, Vilsack commented on the United States’ increasing dissatisfaction with the situation:
"Over the last few years, the United States has repeatedly asked India to justify its claim that a ban on poultry products from the United States is necessary," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement. "However, to date, India has not provided valid, scientifically-based justification for the import restrictions."
In response, WTO trade ambassador Ron Kirk has announced that he is reaching out to India to settle the disagreement between the two countries. In a statement, Kirk called India’s actions “a case of disguising trade restrictions by invoking unjustified animal health concerns,” and has vowed to stick up for U.S. poultry producers, making a statement that “the United States simply will not stand by while our trading partners unfairly disadvantage American farmers, workers and businesses.”
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For a different take on the subject, business blog LiveMint talked to trade analyst T.N.C. Rajagopalan, who conjectured that India may indeed have additional motives for sticking with the ban. In addition to the avian flu concerns, he speculated that India’s domestic poultry industry may be lobbying to government officials out of worry that a flood of U.S. poultry being imported into the country would eat into their own profits; he notes, however, that such fears are thus far unsubstantiated. He adds that, in fact, the fact that this is suddenly such an issue may have to do with government on both sides – while India is looking out for its food industry, the U.S. government is trying to show its own food producers that it’s not afraid to go to bat to improve their business:
“Politicians are same everywhere. They have their domestic constituencies to protect because it is them who face the questions on the street,” Rajagopalan said.
With officials working hard on both sides to protect their own interests, it isn’t likely that an agreement will be reached without effort. But according to a Reuters story, WTO litigation can take up to two years before reaching conclusion – that should be plenty of time to hash out the particulars.