STC Number - 61

India's import restrictions on bovine semen

Maintained by: India
Raised by: Canada; European Union
Supported by: United States of America
First date raised: March 1999 G/SPS/R/14 para. 19
Dates subsequently raised: March 2000 (G/SPS/R/18 paras. 23-25)
June 2000 (G/SPS/R/19 paras. 24-25)
November 2000 (G/SPS/R/20 paras. 18-22)
March 2001 (G/SPS/R/21 paras. 40-43)
July 2001 (G/SPS/R/22 para. 51)
April 2003 (G/SPS/R/29 paras. 76-77)
Number of times subsequently raised: 6
Relevant documents: G/SPS/GEN/113 G/SPS/GEN/230 RD/SPS/28/Rev.1, G/SPS/R/19para. 11
Products covered: 05 Products of animal origin, not elsewhere specified or included; 051110 - Bovine semen
Primary subject keyword: Animal Health
Keywords: Animal health; Human health; International Standards / Harmonization; Zoonoses; Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)
Status: Resolved
Solution: In July 2001, the representative of Canada reported that Canada was engaged in consultations under the SPS Agreement with the delegation of India regarding bovine semen imports. Certain positive developments had occurred and Canada hoped to resolve the issue very quickly. The representative of India indicated that the relevant regulations had been changed, and that these changed would soon be notified ( G/SPS/R/22 refers). In March 2018, the European Union informed Members of the resolution of its concerns regarding India's import restrictions on bovine semen, which had initially been raised by Canada and supported by the European Union . The European Union thanked India for their cooperation on this issue (G/SPS/R/90 refers).
Date reported as resolved: 01/03/2018

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In March 1999, the representative of the European Communities reported that its bilateral contacts with India regarding import restrictions on bovine semen had not been successful. He presented a number of specific questions for transmission to the Indian authorities which were related to a lack of information about the application of international standards by India (G/SPS/GEN/113 refers).

In March 2000, the representative of Canada informed the Committee that despite the fact that Canada was a reliable BSE-free supplier of high quality bovine semen, India had banned imports of bovine semen from Canada because of BSE concerns. Furthermore, the OIE and most veterinarians agreed that BSE was not transmittable via semen. In its latest communication with Canada, India had indicated that it was aware that the existing scientific evidence suggested that the disease was not transmittable through semen, but noted that ongoing studies might conclude otherwise. Canada was not aware of any such studies, and had yet to see a risk assessment that would justify the ban. Therefore, Canada saw no scientific justification for the measure and asked that it be withdrawn immediately. The representative of the United States supported Canada, as all of North America was free of BSE.

The representative of India indicated that he had provided an explanation to Canada, which he would be happy to provide to Members. The restriction on bovine semen imports had been imposed to avoid inadvertent introduction of BSE or scrapie into India, where these diseases had not been reported so far. He clarified that the measure was not a ban, but a licensing process. The Government of India had prepared a questionnaire for a few other countries and would carry out a risk assessment based on the responses. The representative indicated that he would draw his authorities' attention to Canada's points in order to try to solve this problem bilaterally as soon as possible.

The representative of the European Communities again expressed concern about India's measures on semen imports, which the EC had already raised at the March 1999 Committee meeting. At that time the European Communities had posed specific questions (G/SPS/R/14, para. 19 and G/SPS/GEN/113 refer). Notwithstanding some bilateral contacts and multilateral discussions, no information had been provided by the Indian authorities regarding the conditions for exporting semen to India. The European Communities would evaluate the information it had received from India at this meeting. The representative of India regretted the delay in providing answers to the European Communities.

In June 2000, the representative of Canada informed the Committee that despite the fact that Canada was a reliable BSE-free supplier of high quality bovine semen, India had banned imports of bovine semen from Canada because of BSE concerns. Furthermore, the OIE and most veterinarians agreed that BSE was not transmittable via semen. In its latest communication with Canada, India had indicated that it was aware that the existing scientific evidence suggested that the disease was not transmittable through semen, but noted that ongoing studies might conclude otherwise. Canada was not aware of any such studies, and had yet to see a risk assessment that would justify the ban. Therefore, Canada saw no scientific justification for the measure and asked that it be withdrawn immediately. The representative of the United States supported Canada, as all of North America was free of BSE.

The representative of India indicated that he had provided an explanation to Canada, which he would be happy to provide to Members. The restriction on bovine semen imports had been imposed to avoid inadvertent introduction of BSE or scrapie into India, where these diseases had not been reported so far. He clarified that the measure was not a ban, but a licensing process. The Government of India had prepared a questionnaire for a few other countries and would carry out a risk assessment based on the responses. The representative indicated that he would draw his authorities' attention to Canada's points in order to try to solve this problem bilaterally as soon as possible.

In November 2000, the representative of Canada observed that this was the third meeting of the Committee at which this issue had been raised. The restrictions imposed by India were purportedly due to concerns regarding BSE, however Canada was BSE-free and prohibited the feeding of any ruminant material to ruminants. Furthermore, the OIE and other veterinary bodies agreed that BSE was not transmitted by semen. In September 2000, the Indian government authorities indicated that they intended to continue this unjustified prohibition, despite the lack of any risk assessment for their measure. The representative of the European Communities indicated that they shared most of Canada's concerns regarding India's measures on bovine semen, and requested to be informed of Canada's proposal to India and India's reaction.

The representative of India stated that his authorities considered resolution of this issue to be important, and detailed bilateral consultations were ongoing. The Indian Animal Husbandry Commission had met on 11 September 2000 and had noted the findings of the EC Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) that in the absence of infectivity studies of semen, embryos, foetal tissues, milk and colostrums in bovines and caprines, and in the absence of all the necessary experimental and epidemiological data, precise estimates of the risks could not be made. The SSC had recommended further research regarding testing of infectivity of these products. The SSC was also of the view that field data on the occurrence of BSE in countries where it could occur as a result of semen and embryos was not available and therefore could not be appraised.

The representative of India further reported that his country's expert committee was aware that under the present OIE standards even BSE-infected countries could export semen. India had sought detailed technical information from the OIE regarding the basis and criteria applied for determining that BSE was not transmitted by semen, as well as information on the criteria for determining if a country or zone was free from BSE. However, to date no reply had been received from the OIE. Finally, the representative of India observed that because of the reverence of cattle in his country, the introduction of BSE had to be avoided at all costs as it would not be possible to slaughter infected animals.

The representative of the European Communities observed that India was referring to a scientific opinion which had been published in 1998. Subsequently, there had been a number of meetings of various OIE committees and of the OIE Code Commission which had confirmed the current OIE recommendations.

The representative of the OIE indicated that the issue of bovine semen had been examined on various occasions at the OIE, and the results of these examinations had been provided to India and any other country seeking such information. However, the OIE was prepared to again send India all of the relevant information desired.

In March 2001, the representative of Canada announced that both delegations had agreed to undertake informal discussions under the SPS Agreement and hoped that this matter would be resolved in the near future, recalling the statement of the OIE (G/SPS/GEN/230) which confirmed that BSE could not be transmitted by semen.

The representative of India reaffirmed that bilateral discussions were taking place to resolve the matter. India was not trying to give an unfair advantage to domestic producers at the expense of Canadian exporters. India would raise questions of a technical nature, at the OIE, as to the manner in which the OIE international standard was developed. The representative of India also noted that socio-religious conditions and traditional practices in respect of the treatment of cows in India were such that India had to be extremely cautious in taking a decision concerning this issue. He asked Canada to cooperate in the risk assessment that India would be carrying out, the first time that a risk assessment of this nature had been undertaken by India. Information on how to carry out the assessment had already been obtained and the questionnaire for obtaining information from Canada on the substantive issues involved was under preparation. However, it would take at least another six months before India could complete the risk assessment.

The representative of Canada queried the need to carry out the risk assessment as there was, according to the OIE, no risk of the disease being transmitted through semen. Canada viewed the coming meetings at OIE as the best forum to discuss this matter further in the hope of resolving the technical issues at hand.

The representative of OIE indicated that several issues had been being raised during this meeting which could be discussed at the OIE. For example, the ban on pork products due to fears over BSE was unfounded. In relation to hepatitis and poultry meat, this was not an OIE list A or B disease, nor had any country requested it to be placed on either of these lists. Any country wishing to do so should make their desire known to the OIE, so that the issue could be discussed and consideration given to placing it on a list and subsequently an international standard developed for the disease.

In July 2001, the representative of Canada reported that Canada was engaged in consultations under the SPS Agreement with the delegation of India regarding bovine semen imports. Certain positive developments had occurred and Canada hoped to resolve the issue very quickly. The representative of India indicated that the relevant regulations had been changed, and that these changed would soon be notified (G/SPS/R/22 refers).

In April 2003, the representative of Canada reported that although a successful conclusion had been reported to the Committee in July 2001, a further problem had been encountered and an import license request had been rejected by the Indian authorities due to some apparent connection between BSE and bovine semen. He questioned the scientific basis for the action and recalled that the OIE's recommendations supported Canada's view. He requested that India remove this restriction.

The representative of India agreed to convey Canada's concerns to the appropriate authorities in capital.

In March 2018, the European Union informed Members of the resolution of its concerns regarding India's import restrictions on bovine semen, which had initially been raised by Canada and supported by the European Union. The European Union thanked India for their cooperation on this issue (G/SPS/R/90 refers).