Washington: The US on Tuesday dragged India to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against New Delhi's ban on imports of certain American farm products, including poultry meat and eggs, on what Washington called "unjustified" health-safety worries.
India claims that this trade ban is aimed at preventing avian influenza, but it has not provided scientific evidence in line with international standards on avian-influenza control, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said.
As such the US is requesting consultations with India under the dispute settlement provisions of the WTO concerning India's prohibition on certain American agricultural exports, including poultry meat and chicken eggs.
"India's ban on US poultry is clearly a case of disguising trade restrictions by invoking unjustified animal health concerns. The United States is the world's leader in agricultural safety and we are confident that the WTO will confirm that India's ban is unjustified," Kirk said.
"Opening India's market to American farmers will promote jobs here at home, while also providing Indian consumers with access to high quality, safe US products," he said.
Incidentally, the USTR announcement comes within a week of US President Barack Obama creating the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center, which was meant to be targeting the unfair trade practices of countries like China.
The creation of Interagency Trade Enforcement Center demonstrated that the US simply will not stand by while its trading partners unfairly disadvantage American farmers, workers and businesses, he said.
"As we have shown through the creation of this new unit, and the Obama Administration's strong record of enforcing trade agreements and WTO commitments, we will continue to insist that all of our trading partners around the world play by the rules and uphold their WTO obligations," Kirk said.
Consultations are the first step in the WTO dispute settlement process and parties are encouraged to agree to a solution at this stage.
If the matter is not resolved through consultations, the US may request the establishment of a WTO dispute settlement panel, the official US statement warmed.
Since at least February of 2007, India has formally banned imports of various agricultural products from the US, as a precautionary measure to prevent outbreaks of avian influenza in the country.
India instituted this ban even though the US has not had an outbreak of High Pathogenic Avian Influenza ("HPAI") since 2004, USTR argued.
In addition, international standards for avian-influenza control do not support the imposition of import bans due to detections of low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI), the only kind of AI found in the United States since 2004, it noted.
"Over the last few years, the US has repeatedly asked India to justify its claim that a ban on products from the United States is necessary. To date, India has not provided valid, scientifically-based justification for the import restrictions," USTR alleged.
USTR said the WTO's Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures ("SPS Agreement") explicitly recognises that WTO Members have the right to adopt regulations to protect human, animal, or plant life or health.
However, the SPS Agreement also requires WTO Members to take certain steps to ensure that such regulations are not merely a cover for protectionism.
"India appears to have acted inconsistently with its WTO obligations in this case. In particular, India's ban does not appear to be supported by scientific evidence or a valid risk assessment," USTR said.
First Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2012, 23:32