WTO Hearing on India-US Poultry Import Dispute This Week

INDIA - India and the US are set to lock horns on the validity of import restrictions by New Delhi on poultry and poultry items from areas afflicted by the bird flu virus at the first panel hearing at the World Trade Organisation this week.
calendar icon 24 July 2013
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Senior officials from the Commerce Department and the Animal Husbandry Department, with a supporting team of top advocates, will give a presentation to the WTO Dispute Settlement Panel explaining why restrictions on poultry from areas afflicted with even mild strains of the avian infulenza virus were necessary to protect the country from the disease.

The decision of the panel will determine if India can continue restricting import of cheap chicken legs from the US – which poses a serious threat to the domestic poultry industry – citing bird flu fears.

"Since this is the first panel hearing, we have to argue our case with conviction, as it would contribute hugely to the panels’ final verdict," a Commerce Department official told The Hindu Business Line.

The hearing on 24-25 July, where both sides will present their case and answer queries, will be followed by a second hearing at the end of the year, after which the panel will give its draft report.

Once the draft report is discussed and argued by both sides, the panel will give its final judgement.

The US had disputed India’s decision last year for banning import of poultry and poultry products on unscientific grounds.

It had argued that the ban imposed on countries' reporting outbreaks of low pathogenic notifiable avian influenza had no basis in science and was not supported by the World Organisation for Animal Health.

While there is no ban on import of chicken or poultry products from the US at the moment, there is a high risk of low-pathogen virus getting detected in one of its remote farms that would trigger the ban once again.

Because of the unpredictability of supply, Indian buyers are not willing to source US chicken despite the fact that it is available at less than half the domestic price.

According to estimates by the US poultry industry, including the National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation and USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, the potential market in India for US poultry products is over $300 million a year.

India, on the other side, has argued that its restrictions were completely scientific and low pathogen virus also posed a serious risk.

The Animal Husbandry Department has worked on risk assessment studies for individual products to establish how the virus threatens different products at different levels.

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