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New Delhi: Differences between India and the US over intellectual property rights (IPR) issues have widened after a ministerial-level trade policy forum meeting on Tuesday, a government official said, asking to remain anonymous.

Tuesday’s meeting saw the US express disappointment at the stature of a joint working group on the IPR issue. It accused India of backtracking from a commitment to appoint a high-level bureaucrat at the head of the group.

But India insisted that the group, headed by a joint secretary, is important enough to resolve bilateral differences, according to a government official who spoke under condition of anonymity.

In September, during a visit by the then acting deputy US trade representative (USTR) Wendy Cutler to finalize the agenda for the trade policy forum and parts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US programme, the American side had insisted on setting up a working group on IPR at the secretary level. However, the Indian side had communicated that it may not be possible since the bureaucratic structures in the two countries are different.

“There are eight or nine departments who handle IPR in India. IPR is not only pharma. Copyright is with the human resources department, films, etc. are with information and broadcasting ministry, traditional knowledge is with AYUSH ministry. You can’t have eight (Indian) secretaries and one person from the US sitting in a meeting to discuss IPR issues," a government official had earlier said.

However, both sides did agree to form the working group and an announcement to this effect was made in the joint statement from Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with US President Barack Obama in September.

“Agreeing on the need to foster innovation in a manner that promotes economic growth and job creation, the leaders committed to establish an annual high-level Intellectual Property (IP) Working Group with appropriate decision-making and technical-level meetings as part of the Trade Policy Forum," the statement had said.

The working group, which is headed by joint secretary in the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) D.V. Prasad on the Indian side, held its first meeting during the trade policy forum meeting earlier this week.

Dinesh Abrol, convenor of the National Working Group on Patent Laws, a civil society group, said India had walked into a trap by agreeing to form the working group and that US demands on India would only grow.

“The fundamental mistake that we committed is by agreeing to a bilateral mechanism on a multilateral issue. And on a bilateral platform, the US is at an advantage because we seek foreign direct investment and technology from the country," Abrol added.

The US has been complaining about poor protection and enforcement of intellectual property in India and has announced plans to initiate an out-of-cycle review of India’s IP policy. The US has been threatening to downgrade India to “priority foreign country" —a category of serious offenders that could invite US sanctions, from India’s current status of “priority watch" list. The government official quoted earlier said the Indian side did not raise the matter as “it is the internal matter of the US and we are not worried about it". The US-India joint statement after the Trade Policy Forum meeting stated that both countries recognize the importance of providing a transparent and predictable policy environment for fostering innovation.

“India and the United States recognize the importance of trade secrets protection to attracting investment and agree to exchange information on best legal practices in this area," the statement said.

Speaking at an event organized by the lobby group Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), US trade representative Michael Froman said that in September, Prime Minister Modi and President Obama had agreed to establish a high-level working group on intellectual property rights, “providing us with a platform to address issues of interest to both countries".

“Copyright enforcement is a top priority of the entertainment industries in Hollywood and in Bollywood. Incentivizing life-saving innovations and promoting affordable access to quality healthcare and safe medicine will benefit all Indians and Americans," Froman added.

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