The National Chicken Council and USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) in a press release today announced they have encouraged U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to begin consultations with the government of India in the World Trade Organization (WTO) for India’s longstanding prohibition on the import of U.S. poultry.

Despite being one of the 23 founding countries of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT, which became the WTO) in 1947, India has done as little as any nation to open its border to trade or to abide by multilateral trade rules. “We believe this is ironic, because the purpose of the GATT/WTO has been to liberalize trade through market access and fair and predictable trade rules,” the groups wrote in the release.

India has used a variety of excuses and erected trade barriers over many decades to deny access to U.S. poultry. Primarily, since 2006 India has had a ban on poultry imports from any country that has reported any incident of avian influenza, irrespective of its pathogenicity. This protectionist posture is inconsistent with accepted international standards, and has no health or safety justification. While international protocols such as those adopted by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), as well as the health rules of most countries engaged in international trade, clearly distinguish between low-pathogenic AI and highly pathogenic AI, India makes no such distinction.

 “In our view, India’s posture is thinly guised protectionism,” said USAPEEC President Jim Sumner. “The Indian economy is growing rapidly, as is its standard of living and its consumption of poultry. It is projected that India will soon be the world’s most populous country, and its people must have continued access to an ample supply of affordable protein.”

“U.S. broiler chicken companies and the farm families that grow broiler chickens are committed to the responsible production of food that is safe, affordable, and abundant for consumers in the United States and around the world,” said National Chicken Council President Mike Brown. “As the middle class in India continues to expand, and the market moves more toward commercial poultry, the United States should be afforded the opportunity to compete fairly with our products in this growing market.”

While there are important principles at issue here, there are also important trade possibilities. NCC and USAPEEC believe that if India were to open its market and to apply international rules fairly, the U.S. poultry industry could compete effectively. The current Indian market for poultry is about 2.6 million metric tons annually, and is growing at 8 percent to 10 percent per year. The groups estimate that if trade with India were liberalized, annual U.S. poultry exports could exceed $300 million.

“Our organizations believe that India’s actions constitute a clear disregard for international trade rules and its obligations under those rules,” the groups concluded. “Therefore, we have formally requested to USTR and USDA to engage in consultations with India under article XXIII of the GATT and to initiate dispute settlement if India does not bring its import regime into compliance with international rules and standards.”