New Delhi: The European Union (EU) is pressing for a greater level of commitment on intellectual property rights (IPR) protection from India in the ongoing negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two. This has raised concerns in India over access to cheap medicines and agricultural inputs.
A draft version of the bilateral negotiations, which was apparently leaked and posted on the Internet, indicates that the FTA would specify the rights and obligations between the two parties beyond those agreed under the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, also known as the TRIPS-plus standards of protection.
As a result of the most-favoured-nation clause in the World Trade Organization (WTO) trade law, any TRIPS-plus standard agreed upon with the EU should also be extended automatically and unconditionally to other WTO members without any trade concession from them.
“This approach ignores that India...is the home to one of the largest populations of poor people in the world. Higher standards of IPRs protection can only aggravate the exclusion of the poor from access to essential products, such as medicines and inputs for agricultural production...” writes Carlos M. Correa in an analysis of the FTA draft released by Oxfam on 9 June.
A senior commerce and industry ministry official, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said it is too premature to draw any conclusion on the negotiations. “Negotiations are still on. They (EU) have their wishlist, we have our wishlist. We have not yet reached that stage of negotiations. We will take a call when we reach that stage,” the official said.
“We urge the EU to stop its attempts to dramatically increase intellectual property protection for pharmaceutical products beyond what is already provided for under international trade law, and encourage India to stand firm against the EU’s demands. These demands mean to undermine India’s ability to produce, export, and market low-cost generic versions of life-saving medicines,” said Leena Menghaney of MSF Access Campaign for Essential Medicines.
The EU is also demanding that India should extend the monopoly accorded by a patent for up to five additional years in order to compensate for the time required for the marketing approval of a medicinal product. The process, known as evergreening, is a method by which patent holders can extend the patent life of known drugs, thus delaying the entry of generic, low-cost versions of the drugs.
The EU is India’s largest source of foreign direct investment, accounting for €10.9 billion (Rs70,959 crore now), or 65% of all foreign direct investment inflows in India in 2007.
India was the EU’s ninth most important trading partner in 2007.