The World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed this week to investigate India’s trade restrictions on U.S. poultry and eggs and will move forward toward establishing a dispute settlement panel to decide the issue.

India has prohibited imports of U.S. chicken products since at least February 2007, saying the ban is needed to prevent the spread of low-pathogenic avian influenza.  U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said India ignores scientific evidence about the safety of U.S. poultry to prohibit imports.  USDA explained that low-pathogenic bird flu causes “minor illness, poses no risk to human health, and sometimes manifests no clinical signs.”

The U.S. poultry industry estimates the value of poultry product exports to India could exceed $300 million a year.  In comments filed with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR),  the National Chicken Council,  National Turkey Federation, and USA Poultry & Egg Export Council called India’s defacto import ban a “protectionist policy that is inconsistent with accepted international standards, and has no health or safety justification.”  USTR requested WTO to form a dispute settlement panel in March 2012 but India objected.  Bilateral consultations were held in mid-April without resolution to the issue.  WTO has now over-ruled that objection.