American Chicken

Who Needs The WTO?

Sankara Narayanan

US poultry imports were banned by India in 2007 on account of avian influenza. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has called the decision 'unscientific' in its October 2014 judgment.

The government is consulting with stakeholders on ways to protect the growing domestic poultry industry from the inflow of US chicken legs, which are cheaper by about Rs 100 per kg. A breeder from Coimbatore said, 'Currently, fresh chicken in retail was selling for Rs 180 a kg and chicken legs for Rs 240 a kg. On the other hand, chicken drumsticks from US come in at around Rs 50-60 a kg'.

A government official said. "We are committed to protect the industry with huge employment potential and are looking at various measures to that effect. We have had a meeting with the poultry industry and breeders."

Last week, China banned the import of US poultry and eggs after the detection of an avian flu strain in the Pacific Northwest. More than 20 countries, including members of the EU, South Korea and South Africa, have imposed curbs on poultry from certain US states or the entire country.

With US consumers preferring chicken breasts, the less-favoured chicken legs are frozen for export to other markets at highly competitive prices. "As Russia has also banned American poultry, they are really eyeing the Indian market to sell chicken legs frozen for the last four-five years at may be Rs 40-50 a kg compared to Rs 160 -170 a kg price prevailing in India," said another official.

But as per WTO rules, national treatment must be accorded, which means the domestic Industry must be subjected to the same rules as the foreign seller.

US will export chicken legs that are four to five years old. India at best could restrict imports to products that are not more than six months old. Even for this, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India must come out with standards. According to experts, India could also look at options such as anti-dumping duties to curb imports and use the argument that the American chicken is fed with genetically modified food.

"US chicken is given genetically modified feed, which is not allowed in India. They are also injected with a lot of hormones," said an expert. The EU banned US chicken on account of chlorine treatment. An anti-dumping case could be possible but difficult.

It is really funny that Indian officials are planning to challenge in WTO the safety of American chickens landing in India on the plea that these chickens are fed with genetically modified feed. Americans will not miss to point out a very recent statement of India’s Forest and Environment Minister in Parliament that there was no scientific proof to establish the bad effects of GM food/crop on people and other living organisms.

US-made GM food items are readily marketed across India and the Govt has never ever bothered to stop that. But the govt is suddenly woken up to the hazards of GMO because they have to protect the powerful Indian poultry lobby.

The government of India will attract international ridicule if it complains about the injected hormones and antibiotics in American chickens. Last year an environmental NGO (Centre for Science and Environment) exposed through studies how dangerously the Indian poultry products were injected with hormones and antibiotics. It went on to warn people that this would lead Indians to become non-reactive to antibiotics soon. Indian poultry breeding majors called this study a coup organised by the poultry MNCs to damage the native industry.

Has India not tied a rope around its neck by signing the WTO treaty on dotted lines? If the US succeeds in WTO appeal, which is very likely because this organisation is in American coat pocket, Indians will be condemned to eat chicken legs that are four to five years old.

Indian farmers have all along been opposing India's entry into WTO. The "informed" Indians kept quiet all along. Now they will also face the music in the form of health risk. With the arrival of cheap poultry products from America, not only the big breeders will be hit. Poultry supports many a small farm household as an alternative source of income. Now that is in peril.

Last year Modi govt, in spite of the strong pressure from EU and the US, refused to sign the Trade Facilitation Treaty (TFT) till the food security issues (state procuring from farmers at an administered minimum support price and stock piling for PDS) are resolved satisfactorily. This decision was welcomed by all farm associations across the nation. But India Inc, trade bodies and economic experts expressed their displeasure. What is good for farmers is bad for India's corporates and experts.

TFT was desperately sought after by the powerful western nations. That was the real trump card for Indian govt to negotiate food security issues. But the commerce minister subsequently agreed to sign the TFT in American soil, without finalising the food security issues, succumbing to the pressure groups within and without. The Indian commerce minister gave this assurance not to WTO but to America. Once Americans give green signal, WTO's acceptance is just a formality. So much for this international body's independence!
Strong economies from East and West are applying enormous pressure on Indian state to allow fishing trawlers India’s sea coasts and dumping of dairy products, cotton, silk, rubber, fruits, oil seeds, potato, tomato etc made out of huge state subsidy. And Indian economists also strongly vouch for this as the Indian consumers will have the freedom to choose the world class products at the cheapest of prices. Indian state is inching towards giving permission to such demands.

Now it is the turn of American chicken legs coming to Indian Kitchens. Sooner domestic markets will be flooded with the best of farm products from alien lands for the informed Indians to enjoy. But the day is not far off to witness Indian farmers and fishermen following Somalians.

Vol. 47, No. 35, Mar 8 - 14, 2015