U.S. Claims Victory in Poultry Dispute with India

Economic Indicators Dow Jones Newswires

The U.S. claimed a victory for its poultry producers Tuesday in a trade case involving India's restrictions on U.S. meat over bird-flu concerns.

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The World Trade Organization sided with Washington in the 2012 case, brought after India banned U.S. agricultural products, including poultry, eggs and live pigs, in 2007, blaming the restrictions on concerns about the spread of avian influenza.

The WTO panel struck down India's rules in part because it said the bans "are not based on scientific principles and are maintained without sufficient scientific evidence." Highly pathogenic strains of bird flu haven't been detected in the U.S. since 2004, before the Indian ban, U.S. officials said.

The U.S. counts the India decision today as its fourth win at the WTO this year, after earlier cases involving China and Argentina. The Obama administration is going out of its way to enforce existing trade rules in part to blunt criticism of current trade negotiations with Asia-Pacific nations and the European Union.

U.S. officials said that the WTO win may give Washington ammunition in informal negotiations about agricultural barriers with other countries.

A spokesman for the Indian embassy did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the case. India has 60 days to appeal the WTO panel decision.

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Powerful agricultural groups say many fast-growing developing economies put arbitrary rules on U.S. food and farm products, despite rules among WTO nations barring arbitrary restrictions.

The poultry industry employs about 350,000 Americans, with significant operations in many states, including 50,000 family farms, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told reporters on a call Tuesday.

"For too long, Indians have used avian influenza as a trade barrier, despite there being no scientifically defensible reason for a ban," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, on the call. Lifting the ban could open India to as much as $300 million in poultry exports, he said.

"India's ban was thinly veiled protectionism," said James Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council. "We recognize that work remains to open India's market--but this ruling is an important step toward securing that objective."

The case comes at a pivotal time for U.S. Indian relations. Trade irritants had hurt ties with India's previous government, and the Obama administration has since rolled out the red carpet for India's new prime minister, Narendra Modi, a popular leader who has touted businesses and economic growth. Mr. Modi has already favored Indian agricultural and food interests over cooperation on key trade issues at the WTO, but experts say it is too early to predict his overall trade policy.

Russia this year banned American meat in response to U.S. sanctions over Moscow's interference in the Crimea, but U.S. producers said Russian restrictions in recent years had already prevented U.S. shipments of pork and poultry.

U.S. farmers want more access for American food, included genetically modified products, in the European Union, which is part of current negotiations with Brussels.

Critics of Washington and the WTO say the cases move too slowly and don't address all the major trade barriers that businesses and farms face.

The Geneva-based WTO said leading economies in the Group of 20 nations imposed 934 trade-restrictive measures since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008 that hadn't been removed as of May.