India broke the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) by banning imports of U.S. poultry because of unsubstantiated avian influenza fears, a World Trade Organization dispute panel  ruled on Tuesday.  The National Chicken Council and the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) commended in a press release, available here, the announcement by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) that the World Trade Organization has ruled against India in its ban on U.S. poultry.

India placed a ban on U.S. poultry in 2007 under the guise of preventing low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI), but produced no scientific evidence to support the ban’s validity. In response, USTR initiated consultations in 2012, refuting India’s claims that LPAI will mutate into a highly pathogenic form of the virus.

“India’s ban was thinly veiled protectionism,” said USAPEEC President James Sumner and National Chicken Council President Michael Brown. “This ruling should send a signal to India and other countries that have placed similar bans on U.S. poultry that they are inconsistent with WTO rules and with guidelines established by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).”

“Our industry believes that free and fair trade – particularly with food – should never be used as a political bargaining chip. Indian consumers deserve access to affordable and safe protein, which the U.S. has the ability to provide,” said Sumner and Brown. “We thank former USTR Ron Kirk for initiating the complaint against India, and (current) Ambassador Michael Froman for continuing to pursue the case for a favorable outcome.”

This week’s ruling does not give the United States automatic access to India’s market, which is estimated to be approximately 2.6 million metric tons of U.S. chicken annually, and is growing at a rate of 8 percent to 10 percent per year. “We recognize that work remains to open India’s market, but this ruling is an important step toward securing that objective. We hope that the new Indian administration will be amenable to working with the U.S. government and industry to remove all restrictions and allow access for U.S. poultry in the near future,” Sumner and Brown concluded.

Under WTO Rules, India has 60 days to appeal the ruling.  If an appeal is filed, the WTO’s appellate body must issue a new report within 90 days.

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and c0-chair of the bipartisan Senate Chicken Caucus, praised the WTO ruling this week.  “Exports play a critical role in the health of America’s poultry industry, making it important that the United States fight the unfair protectionist policies of some of the biggest markets in the world. While today’s WTO ruling does not mean automatic access to the Indian market, it is an important step forward in that fight,” Coons said in a news release available here.

“I am pleased that the WTO panel affirmed that measures to ensure food safety must be based on science and not a desire to restrict market access.  Georgia is the fourth largest poultry-producing region in the world, so this means a great deal to our state economy,” said Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), ranking member on the Senate Finance Subcommittee on International Trade as well as a co-chair of the Senate Chicken Caucus.  Isakson full statement is available here.