Mumbai: India may seek the setting up of a special panel within the World Trade Organization to resolve the dispute with the European Union (EU) over the seizure of generic drug exports.
The commerce ministry is ready to push for this at the WTO in the next week after months-long consultations with the concerned authorities, said a ministry official familiar with the development.
Commerce secretary Rahul Khullar said both sides are still talking and expect to resolve the issue. “We are very clear that the consultation process is on. So far that has made good progress. And we are reasonably optimistic that that consultation process will lead to satisfactory resolution. Should it not, I reserve my right to take the matter to court (dispute settlement panel in the WTO),” Khullar said.
The official cited first, who doesn’t want to be identified as he is not authorized to talk with the media, said no settlement had been reached in this matter as media reports suggested last week. “We haven’t withdrawn from the matter, and the stalemate continues on the issue,” he said.
Last week, there were reports in the media quoting India’s commerce minister Anand Sharma that the country had settled the matter, pending for three years, after export consignments of generic drugs from India were detained at several transit ports in Europe, with the EU agreeing to amend its laws.
Khullar refuted the reports in New Delhi on Monday.
“What the minister said was that his counterpart Gucht (EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht) has given him an assurance that the matter will be resolved, where necessary changes will be effected in the regulations to prevent it to recur again,” Khullar said. “We have to believe that assurance is valid. In that context the minister said provided our grievance is addressed why should we need to take anybody to court (WTO dispute settlement panel).”
The minister’s statement has been misreported, the official said. “The way, unfortunately, it has been garbled in the media seems to present a situation as one in which we have decided to withdraw the consultation. We are making a categorical statement that this is not the case.”
The commerce ministry official cited in the first instance said since there were unconfirmed reports floating around in the media, the department has reorganized media coordination through a single channel on this particular matter.
Additional secretary at the commerce ministry D.K. Mittal, authorized to talk on this issue, was not available for comment.
Since 2007, Indian drug exporters have been facing problems at various European ports as the customs authorities at these ports seized export consignments of generic drugs while they were in transit to Latin American and African markets.
The Indian drug makers affected included Cipla Ltd, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd, Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, Indoco Remedies Ltd, Lupin Ltd and Aurobindo Pharma Ltd. The consignments were seized on charges of patent law violation as some of the drugs were patented in the European markets.
The trade-related intellectual property rights law under the initiative of WTO restricts entry of patented and trademark-protected articles to the respective markets where the IP law is in place, unless permitted by the rights holder.
India, which has pointed out that drugs were meant for a destination where such patents don’t hold sway, has raised the issue at several international forums as have industry lobby groups.
“We are presently in consultation with the EU on the seizure of drug consignments that took place last year,” said Khullar. “If indeed a solution can be devised and worked out in this consultation process, then that prevents parties from having a legal recourse.”
Asit Ranjan Mishra in New Delhi contributed to this story.