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By Verghese K. George:

If trade in services involves Indians coming to America and altering the demographics of the country in the process, and American jobs moving to India through outsourcing contracts, trade in goods is equally crucial to America First. India has a significant surplus in trade with the US and this is a concern not merely for Trump but for Democrats as well, as the exchange between Sherman and Ayres quoted above shows. A particular thorn in the flesh for India–US ties has been the poultry trade. From 2007, India does not allow American poultry into the country, citing concerns of avian influenza. America argued that there could be no countrywide ban based on avian influenza concerns. When India refused to budge, the US took the case to the WTO in 2012. On 19 June 2015, the organisation ruled against India. America has moved the WTO again, alleging non- compliance by India and seeking permission to impose a penalty tariff on imports from the country. By mid-2018, India relented and began allowing the import of chicken parts from America, though in small quantities. The last word on this has not been said yet, however.

Politics in America and India are both unsupportive of trade in goods, but the poultry trade is a curious example—it could be seen as how economies around the world could complement one another through trade or how developing markets become a tool for advanced markets. Also, how avoidable disputes could damage symbiotic relationships.

A little digression into America’s global chicken presence shows us why trade cannot merely be understood in terms of surpluses or deficits, a point hyper-nationalist politics often does not appreciate. The US is the world’s largest chicken producer and its chicken consumption per capita—now at 91 pounds—has increased nearly every year since the mid-1960s, while red meat consumption has steadily declined.50 Nineteen per cent of its poultry produce is exported. It is estimated that Americans eat chicken ten times a month, but not more than twice do they eat chicken thighs or drumsticks. They prefer chicken breasts, a culinary habit that formed when chickens were raised in farms and their legs and thighs were more muscular. Called ‘dark meat’, chicken thighs and legs continue to carry the stigma of being tougher to chew even though those of factory-farm chickens aren’t.

When birds were sold whole, until fifty years ago, there was nothing to be done about these preferences. Ever since companies began selling them in parts, differential pricing entered the picture. Breasts command the highest price, wings and drumsticks much lower, often a few cents per pound. Since the market is so biased against ‘dark meat’, chicken leg parts are nearly waste for the poultry industry. And we are talking of large quantities—in 2015, almost 9 billion broiler chickens were produced in America. Since culinary preferences decided by culture vary across the world, the parts Americans do not want have a huge market abroad, and the expansion of global trade allowed chicken farmers to access these markets. Chicken feet are a delicacy in China, and chicken legs are considered superior in Russia as well as in India.

In 2008, America exported $854.3 million worth of chicken meat to China and Hong Kong, half of it feet and wings. In 2009, when China threatened restrictions on American chicken feet, in a trade confrontation, an American ‘poultry economist’ reassured the readers of the New York Times, “We have these jumbo, juicy paws the Chinese really love.” But China did ban poultry import from America in 2015, citing avian flu concerns. After Trump took over, it reopened its market to beef from the US—also banned in recent years—but not poultry. Chicken legs have been at the centre of the US–Russia diplomatic tussles too—in 2014, in response to American sanctions, Russia banned the import of American chicken. Chicken is one of the few items that America sells to Russia and it has flapped its wings alongside weightier diplomatic issues. “When Putin came to visit the U.S., he and Obama were talking about nuclear proliferation one second and then poultry the next,” an industry expert told LA Times.

America and Russia have fought over chicken legs several times in the post-Cold War era. The first Bush administration supplied Russia with tons of chicken parts as food aid immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which came to be known as ‘Bush legs’. It squeezed the domestic poultry industry, and Russians began to see it as a mark of its humiliation. Putin made self-sufficiency in poultry a national priority. Russia is now almost completely self-sufficient in pork and poultry meat as a result of anti-Russian sanctions, Putin said in June 2017.

The Indian poultry industry is up in arms and they fear American dumping into the Indian market would kill the sector. However, given the vast untapped potential of the Indian market and the throwaway price at which chicken parts could be bought from America, there could be a creative solution to this issue. Trump has spoken about the restrictions in India on US-manufactured high-end motorcycles and his officials have named several Indian companies for allegedly misusing H-1B visas, but nobody has spoken about the chicken dispute. The issue is not under the radar and America’s formidable trade bureaucracy has detailed this, along with a litany of other issues they think amounts to India denying legitimate market access to America’s products and services, in the USTR National Trade Estimate for 2017 under ‘Foreign Trade Barrier’. Trump indeed raised these concerns with Modi when they met. “I look forward to working with you, Mr Prime Minister [ . . . ] to create a trading relationship that is fair and reciprocal. It is important that barriers be removed to the export of U.S. goods into your markets, and that we reduce our trade deficit with your country,” he said during his Rose Garden appearance with Modi.

US will be a difficult partner to work with going ahead, particularly at the World Trade Organization (WTO),” Moushami P. Joshi, international trade lawyer with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, a leading Washington law firm, told me. The Trump administration’s drive to reduce American trade deficit has brought India into sharper focus. India is the ninth biggest trading partner of the US and had a trade surplus of around $23 billion with the US, in goods and services combined. “The Obama White House never once mentioned trade deficit with India as a matter of concern. In fact, the discussions always were about the success in growing trade. That cannot be the case from now on” a US administration official said on the condition of anonymity in the initial days of the Trump administration. Developments since have only proven this. He saw a silver lining in the potentially tough posturing of the new administration. “The new environment would give Prime Minister Modi the argument for more reforms. So this might actually do some good.

Excerpted with permission from “Open Embrace: India-US Ties In The Age Of Modi And Trump”.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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