The US has launched a case against India at the World Trade Organisation, charging that the Asian nation’s ban on poultry imports – imposed to prevent avian flu – violated global trade rules.

The move comes as the Obama administration has become more aggressive on trade enforcement, recently establishing a new taskforce across government agencies to co-ordinate litigation efforts.

The move marks the fifth time the US has brought a WTO case against India, and the first under the Obama administration.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ron Kirk, the US trade representative, said India’s ban on poultry meat and chicken eggs, imposed in 2007, was “clearly a case of disguising trade restrictions by invoking unjustified animal health concerns”.

Mr Kirk said he was confident that the WTO would rule in favour of the US and declare the ban to be “unjustified”. “Opening India’s market to American farmers will promote jobs here at home, while also providing Indian consumers with access to high quality, safe US products,” he said.

The US government had faced pressure from some members of Congress from both parties and the American poultry industry to press ahead with a case against India in order to force the country to liberalise its rapidly growing chicken market.

According to estimates published by the National Chicken Council in the US, the Indian poultry market is expanding by 8 to 10 per cent every year and could potentially lead to annual US exports of $300m, if the ban were lifted.

The US has frequently clashed with some of its biggest trading partners, including the European Union, over the past decade on poultry exports. Most recently, the Obama administration filed a WTO case filed against China last year challenging its imposition of trade remedies against American poultry exports.

In a statement announcing the case against India, the US said that India’s poultry ban was “not supported by “scientific evidence or a valid risk assessment”. The US said it had not faced an outbreak of “high-pathogenic” avian flu since 2004 and the “low pathogenic” strains detected since then did not warrant the imposition of a ban, according to international standards.

The move marks the fifth time the US has brought a WTO case against India and the first under the Obama administration.

The Indian embassy in Washington and the Indian mission to the WTO in Geneva did not immediately reply to requests for comment on the case. The Obama administration’s tougher stance on trade comes as election-year campaigning in the US is heating up.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a leading candidate for the Republican nomination, has attacked the US president for allowing China to “walk all over us” when it comes to trade, in an attempt to bolster his credentials with blue-collar voters in industrial states such as Ohio and Michigan.

Mr Obama signed an executive order last week establishing the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center, which he had announced in his January “state of the union” address to Congress. It is designed to foster greater co-ordination between USTR and the commerce, state, Treasury, homeland security, agriculture and justice departments in dealing with unfair trade practices.

“The United States simply will not stand by while our trading partners unfairly disadvantage American farmers, workers and businesses,” Mr Kirk said unveiling the case against India on Tuesday.

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