Sharma to take up drug seizures issue with EU commissioner

Sharma to take up drug seizures issue with EU commissioner

New Delhi: India will take up the issue of some European Union (EU) countries seizing consignments of generic drugs in transit with EU trade commissioner Catherine Ashton, commerce minister Anand Sharma said on Friday.

Ashton will be visiting the country to attend a World Trade Organization mini-ministerial meeting on 3-4 September.

“We will have bilateral discussion with the EU trade commissioner, and this (seizure of Indian drugs) will be on the top of our agenda," Sharma said during a post-foreign trade policy interaction at the industry lobby group Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

There have been a number of incidents in the recent past when medicine consignments by Indian firms have been seized in transit at European ports on grounds of alleged patent infringement.

In 2008, there were 17 cases of medicine seizure in the Netherlands alone, according to a response from Dutch authorities to Health Action International, a non-profit organization, under a freedom of information request. Of these, 16 were shipped from India and one from China.

According to European Commission laws, if a consignment of drugs is not patented either in the country of origin or its final destination, it could be seized.

India has objected to this, saying that an agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) allows such exports as the EU was not the destination of these exports.

During the interaction, some pharma companies raised the issue of such non-tariff barriers with Sharma, saying that it has become virtually impossible for them to reach Latin American markets.

“That is a very heartening statement. This is a very positive response from him, and these incentives (under the foreign trade policy) will be meaningful if only the non-tariff barriers are removed," said D.G. Shah, secretary general of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, an industry lobby.

Sharma said that India has taken a strong position on the issue. “Strong protest has been registered. Even if legal action is required, the government is fully prepared to that situation," he said.

The minister also indicated that India would not negotiate on the issue in a free trade agreement (FTA) it is discussing with the EU beyond what is already agreed under TRIPS.

The EU is seeking a stricter regime of intellectual property rights in the FTA, which would directly affect the large generic drugs industry in India.

Sharma said that the government will not accept a situation where the domestic pharma industry is being targeted.

“The Indian pharma industry has made commendable contribution to humankind by providing cheaper lifesaving drugs to poor people across continents," he said. “They have broken the stranglehold of the multinational cartels, which had kept such medicines beyond the reach of the poor people and, therefore, we can understand why our companies are being targeted."