In a joint press release, the National Chicken Council, the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) and National Turkey Federation (NTF) applauded Tuesday’s announcement by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk that the United States will initiate dispute settlement proceedings against India before the World Trade Organization (WTO) to challenge its longstanding prohibition on the import of U.S. poultry. The first step in the process is the United States’ request for consultations with India.

A copy of the case that was filed by USTR is available here.

Since at least 1999, India has used a variety of tariff and non-tariff trade barriers to deny access of U.S. poultry to the Indian market. Although international health standards, in particular those of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), identify only highly pathogenic stains of avian influenza as warranting trade restrictions, India has long ignored those international norms and has banned  poultry imports from the United States or any country that reports any incident of avian influenza, even cases of low pathogenicity. This is a protectionist policy that is inconsistent with accepted international standards and has no health or safety justification.  This policy is particularly problematic in the case of the United States, which is the most efficient poultry producer in the world and the world’s leading exporter of poultry products.

Despite being one of the 23 founding countries of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), (an organization founded in 1948 that has now become known as the WTO), India has done as little as any nation to open its border to trade or to abide by multilateral trade rules.

NCC estimates that if India’s trade barriers were eliminated, the value of U.S. poultry exports to India each year would surpass $300 million.

“U.S. chicken companies and the farm families that grow 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 NCC President Mike Brown in the joint press release. “More than 100 countries recognize this fact and enjoy chicken imported from the United States.  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.  For far too long, India has been using this non-tariff trade barrier to prohibit U.S. poultry.”

“I want to express my gratitude on behalf of NCC’s members to Ambassador Kirk and his team and to Senators Coons (D-DE) and Isakson (R-GA) and Representatives Nunes (R-CA) and Carney (D-DE) for their support in leading a large, bipartisan group of their colleagues in both the Senate and House in working to resolve these longstanding, non-scientifically-based Indian policies that prevent fair trade,” Brown concluded.

A copy of the Senate letter sent on December 21, 2011, to U.S. Trade Representative Kirk from 18 senators is available here.

A copy of the House letter sent to Kirk on January 20, 2012, by 47 representatives is available here.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack signaled his support for USTR’s announcement and issued the following statement:

“Today’s announcement by Ambassador Kirk that the U.S. Government is seeking consultations with India under the dispute settlement provisions of the WTO 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.”

Many across the U.S. agriculture also supported the move.

American Soybean Association (ASA) President Steve Wellman said, “ASA stands firmly beside our industry colleagues at the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, the National Chicken Council and the National Turkey Federation as USTR seeks to open the Indian market to U.S. poultry exports.  Animal agriculture is the soybean industry’s largest customer, and over 90 percent of U.S. soybeans produced are used as a high-quality protein source for animal feed. If the barriers to U.S. poultry exports to India were eliminated, those exports would top $300 million per year, meaning a dramatic increase in demand for soybean meal as poultry feed.”

National Oilseed Processors Association (NOPA) President Tom Hammer stated, “NOPA strongly supports the efforts by the U.S. Government to open the Indian market to exports of U.S. poultry products.  In blocking U.S. poultry imports, India is not playing by the rules nor upholding their WTO obligations.”