The move comes as more than 140 containers of frozen Indian shrimps await clearance at Japanese ports. Japan, which has recently lowered the acceptable level of ethoxyquin in shrimps, has since August rejected seven Indian consignments of the seafood. Ethoxyquin is an anti-oxidant widely used in shrimp feed.
"We have raised the issue with the sanitary & phytosanitary committee of the WTO. We believe the new standards that have been imposed are unscientific and unjustified," a commerce department official told ET.
According to industry estimates, export of shrimps from Odisha and West Bengal has fallen by up to 50% in the last four to five months due to the Japanese restrictions. In 2011-12, shrimps accounted for half of India's total seafood export of $3.5 billion.
While India is not immediately filing a case against Japan at the WTO, it hopes that discussing it at the SPS committee will generate pressure on Japan to respond positively.
"There are other countries like Vietnam that are facing similar entry barriers in Japan for their shrimps. We hope to generate enough pressure at the WTO forum to force Japan to reconsider," the official said. "If this doesn't work, we could consider a formal case against this restrictive measure."
The commerce department has also sought a clarification on why the testing procedures were institutionalised selectively only in 2012, despite the notification being made in 2005.
Japanese authorities rejected shrimps from India in August after the level of ethoxyquin, an anti-oxidant, in some shrimps was found to be in the 0.02-0.04 ppm range. Japan's newly introduced health standards tolerate ethoxyquin levels up to 0.01 ppm.
"Figures supplied to us unofficially by the marine products export development authority reveal that more than 140 containers that have reached the Japanese port face the risk of rejection," the official said.
New Delhi's primary concern is that Japan has not carried out a risk assessment for setting the tolerance limit for the chemical and the extremely low default level of 0.01 ppm has been set without any scientific justification.
"Most of the countries, including the US and the EU, and international bodies like Codex have not prescribed any limit for ethoxyquin in fish and shrimp. So far, there is no evidence to prove that ethoxyquin at a level above 1ppm is injurious to health," MPEDA chairman Leena Nair said.
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