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WTO says US ban on Chinese poultry is illegal

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 01-Oct-2010

A World Trade Organization (WTO) panel has ruled that a US ban on Chinese poultry is illegal – the first such reprimand for legislation brought in under the Obama Administration.

Last year US trade organizations and food companies urged the Obama Administration to oppose a provision in the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act preventing the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) from allowing imports of cooked poultry from China. However, the provision was included, continuing a five-year ban on Chinese poultry sparked by the 2004 avian flu outbreak. China asked a WTO trade resolution panel to intervene about a year ago.

China had complained that the US ban broke international trade rules because it did not allow for proper scientific assessment of the safety of Chinese cooked poultry for American consumption – some of which originates in the US.

The WTO agreed with this complaint in its dispute settlement report, calling the US position “origin-based discrimination” and saying that the United States’ argument that China has different levels of poultry safety compared to other WTO members was “hypothetical” and no evidence had been presented.

As a result of the WTO’s decision, overseas markets could feasibly impose sanctions on American products.

China imported $442m worth of US poultry during 2008, including chicken feet, for which there is no market in the US.

The language in question, Section 727 of the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, states: “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to establish or implement a rule allowing poultry products to be imported into the United States from the People’s Republic of China.”

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) started the administrative process for clearing cooked poultry for import in 2006, after it had been blocked due to avian flu fears in 2004, but Congress denied funding. That provision has been included in every annual Appropriations Act since, but those in the meat industry have said that if the rule is not relaxed, it could hurt US industry.

The panel’s dispute settlement report can be accessed online via this link.

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