New Delhi: Indian drug companies are lobbying against a move by the European Commission to check the import of counterfeit drugs through a directive that comes into effect in about a year from now.
According to the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India (Pharmexcil) lobby group, the country’s drug exports to the European Union (EU) were worth $1.93 billion (around Rs 10,769 crore) in 2010-11. If India fails to get an EU equivalence certificate by 2 July 2013, when the rule is set to go into effect, 30% of this could be affected, the lobby group said.
Industry and government officials say they don’t have the manpower or the resources to be able to comply with the new directive.
Under the EU falsified medicines directive, each shipment of active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) or drug raw materials from India should be accompanied with a written confirmation, vouching that the quality of the exports conforms to EU standards. The legislation was adopted by the EU Council in May 2011 with the objective of preventing the entry of fake drugs.
Failure to provide this “equivalence certificate” would mean loss of business for India, said D.G. Shah, secretary general of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) lobby group.
“The EU initiative is protectionist and while they are citing safety and public health as reasons, it is clear that they want to protect their domestic pharmaceutical companies from competition,” he said. “We can only hope that the Indian government will respond appropriately, keeping this in mind.”
The EU and the Indian drug companies have been in conflict before. In 2008, the Netherlands seized Indian drug consignments on the ground of patent infringement, triggering a trade dispute between India and the EU. The incident had prompted the Indian government to approach the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The term “falsified medicinal product” in the European Commission’s directive is of particular concern in India.
“While the directive is pertaining to API, the word ‘falsified’ could be used broadly to apply to generic drugs made in India,” said C.M. Gulati, editor of the Monthly Index of Medical Specialities, a journal on prescription drugs available in India. “If an Indian company makes a generic version of a drug patented by a multinational pharma company, it could come under this directive and be treated as a ‘falsified’ or spurious drug and be confiscated.”
At a meeting with industry representatives on Monday, the department of pharmaceuticals (DoP) sought a response from the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) about the feasibility of training Indian drug inspectors on EU standards.
“We have sought DCGI’s position on the matter and we are concerned by the use of ‘falsified’. We have also proposed a meeting with representatives from the commerce and health ministries on the matter. We do not want to delay this any further as our exports will be adversely affected,” said Raja Sekhar Vundru, joint secretary, DoP.
The government appears to be convinced that the Indian drug companies have a case.
“We are looking at various alternatives, including approaching WTO...,” said a commerce ministry official who didn’t want to be named. A questionnaire sent by Mint to the European Commission did not elicit a response at the time of going to press.