New Delhi: After Switzerland declared India’s data security and confidentiality laws “adequate" for entering into an automatic information exchange pact regarding unaccounted wealth in banks, India is cautiously optimistic about its impact on the ongoing negotiations for a free trade agreement with European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

Negotiations with EFTA, which began in October 2008, have been held up because of differences on data security and intellectual property rights.

News agency PTI on 6 August reported that Switzerland has published a detailed notification and fact sheet in its official gazette listing various changes to the tax laws and introduction of new laws for fighting black money stashed abroad as well as within the country.

“The legal, administrative and technical framework for confidentiality and data security in India was deemed satisfactory by the Global Forum’s panel of experts," the notification said, referring to the personal data protection measures provided in other laws of the country, including the Information Technology Act and the Right to Information Act.

“We are cautiously optimistic. We will have to see whether the new development will reflect in Switzerland’s position in the upcoming EFTA negotiations," a government official said on condition of anonymity.

EFTA includes Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. India and EFTA countries are holding negotiations for a Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement (TEPA) since October 2008, and 13 rounds had been held until November 2013. Chief negotiators decided to resume negotiations in 2016 after taking stock of their status.

India and the EFTA countries will hold the 17th round of negotiation in New Delhi in September in an effort to resolve pending issues.

The 16th round of negotiations were held from 29 May to 2 June in Malbun, Liechtenstein. “During this 16th round, experts from both sides discussed outstanding issues regarding trade in services, rules of origin and intellectual property rights, while heads of delegation reviewed the state of play regarding trade in goods. Both sides agreed to continue negotiations with a view to moving swiftly towards concluding the process," EFTA said in a statement after the talks.

EFTA has insisted on stricter provisions of intellectual property rights (IPR) under TEPA with India. It has asked India to agree to a broader patentable principles, particularly on biologic products; adopt exclusive rights in data used to support the registration of new drugs and vaccines; and eliminate its requirements for local manufacturing of patented inventions.

Arguing in favour of patent data protection, Switzerland held that solid and reliable patent protection is not only important for any innovative pharmaceutical company, but just as much for other knowledge-based and innovative industries, especially biotechnology which produces expensive cancer drugs. The note also argued against granting compulsory licensing in case a drug is not produced in India but imported into the country. It also seeks to protect the rights of pharma companies to keep patents by making minor changes in the formulation of drugs—known as evergreening—through data exclusivity.

Indian exports to EFTA region contracted 19% to $1.2 billion in 2016-17 while imports fell by 10% to $17.8 billion during the same period.

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