NAFTA nations vow to fight pork restrictions

Thu May 7, 2009 2:39pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The United States, Canada and Mexico vowed on Thursday to fight what they called unjustified bans on pork products in the wake of a H1N1 flu outbreak that started in Mexico.

Around 20 countries -- most notably Russia and China -- have imposed widespread import restrictions on pork and pork products from major U.S., Canadian and Mexican agricultural regions, amid fears over the disease, originally called swine flu.

Experts say the flu is spread though the air and is not food-borne. The World Health Organization reiterated on Thursday that eating pork is "not a danger in terms of getting this infection" and that normal sanitary and health precautions were enough to safeguard the food supply.

In a joint statement, the three NAFTA nations called for an end to "unscientific bans on pork imports" over the outbreak.

"We urge our trading partners to remove these restrictions on our products immediately. We will continue to follow this situation closely, and will take any steps to prevent the enforcement of unjustified measures against our exports, as appropriate," the NAFTA partners said.

Canadian Trade Minister Stockwell Day said those steps might include challenges at the World Trade Organization -- which can often entail a long, drawn-out process.

"That's right. We're not going to rule anything out and appropriate steps means using the dispute settlement mechanisms that are in place with various countries," he told reporters on a conference call when asked whether the joint statement referred to the WTO.

He said WTO guidelines were quite clear that bans on exports had to be scientifically based.   Continued...