The signing of the protocol on prevention and control of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is likely to be welcomed by Thailand's poultry industry, which was hit last year by consumer fears over the spread of the disease. To ally further fears over poultry safety, the measures will allow both countries to work together on controlling the disease, as well as combining expertise and research on its surveillance and diagnosis. The agreement was ratified by Dr Chaweewan Leowijuk, director-general of Thailand's Department of Livestock Development, and Bui Quang Anh, head of its Vietnamese counterpart. Dr Leowijuk told reporters during the signing of the protocol that the measures would be of particular importance to Vietnam, in helping to better track regional outbreaks of the disease. Just last week, The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it expected improving safety measures to drive resurgence in Thailand's broiler production during 2007. "Domestic chicken meat consumption in 2007 should increase due to improved consumer confidence in the safety of cooked chicken and relatively competitive prices of chicken meat against other meats," stated the department's report. This growing confidence in the industry is also expected to be felt in lucrative export markets like Japan and the EU, which are expected to grow this year by around seven per cent to 280,000 tonnes. This follows an agreement signed with the EU in November last year, which will allow the export of salted uncooked poultry meat once Thailand has matched the bloc's requirements on handling avian influenza. The agreement highlights the growing pressure on Asian governments to ensure food safety in order to meet international demands for the regions products. Though Thai authorities and processors stress that the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza has not as yet infected any broiler farms, concerns surrounding the safety of country's poultry still saw sales tumble in 2006. Domestic prices for broiler production in 2006 were down by 11 per cent over the same period in 2005, according to the USDA. This agency said this was in part due to a surplus in poultry stocks.