WTO challenges India’s poultry and pig import bans

By Keith Nuthall

- Last updated on GMT

India has been urged by the WTO to liberalise import restrictions on poultry products and live pigs
India has been urged by the WTO to liberalise import restrictions on poultry products and live pigs

Related tags Wto disputes settlement International trade Livestock Pork Poultry

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has told India it should liberalise its bans on imports of poultry products and live pig imports, imposed over concerns that they could be infected with bird flu. 

The WTO’s Appellate Body has rejected a number of appeals lodged by New Delhi against an earlier judgement from the WTO Disputes Settlement Body that its trade blocks broke global trade laws.

The bans had been challenged at the WTO by the US, whose exporters have been targeted by the restrictions. Other countries affected by the case included the European Union (EU), Australia, Argentina, Brazil and Japan.

The Appellate Body called on India to “bring its measures, found…to be inconsistent with the (WTO) Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement, into conformity with its obligations”​.

India’s restrictions were imposed through two legal instruments: a Raj-era law – the Live-Stock Importation Act of 1898, as amended in 2001; and Statutory Order 1663(E), issued in July 2011.

The WTO however found that India had breached its SPS agreement obligation to base such bans on solid science, namely “they are not based on a risk assessment”​. Also, the Appellate Body found that New Delhi had failed to follow World Organisation for Animal Health guidance when imposing the restrictions. Notably, India had broken WTO rules by insisting on import bans covering an entire exporting country, even if it has regions free of bird flu, or with low levels of the disease. And the Appellate Body agreed that the US had identified alternative, less restrictive measures that India could have taken.

A note from the United States Trade Representative office said the ruling would “help address barriers to the Indian market for US farmers, including those in the US poultry industry in particular, and also signals to other WTO members that they must ensure that any avian influenza restrictions they impose are grounded in science… and are not simply a disguise for protectionism”.

“This decision affirms the importance of basing agricultural trade requirements on sound science,”​ added US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack.

If India does not liberalise its restrictions, Washington could ask the WTO to authorise retaliatory tariffs against a wide range of Indian exports to the US.

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