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Civil society groups in India and across the world protest against EU-India FTA

New Delhi, India and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 20 April 2010.

Civil society groups IN INDIA AND across the world protest AGAINST EU-India FTA

Civil society and public health groups from India, Brazil and several other countries today vehemently objected to the proposed India-European Union Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

A petition created by the Working Group of Intellectual Property (GTPI) of the Brazilian Network for the Integration of People (REBRIP) entitled “Civil Society Against the EU-India Free Trade Agreement” was supported by 651 persons from several places of the world. This petition manifests concern about the negative consequences of the proposed India-EU FTA for the procurement of cheaper generic Indian medicines, which are important for the sustainability of policies for guaranteed access to medicines in Brazil and other Latin American countries. The petition is going to be sent to the European Commission, European Parliament and the Indian Embassy in Brazil.

In another move, Indian civil society and public health groups today submitted a joint letter signed by several organisations and individuals to the Government of India protesting against the FTA and demanding that it hold public consultations on FTAs it is negotiating, including the India-EU FTA.

India is currently negotiating several FTAs, most importantly with the EU, Japan, and the European Free Trade Association, that are likely to drastically reduce access to newer medicines for people living with HIV, cancer and other diseases, both in India and other developing countries.

Limited access to leaked draft documents make clear that India’s trading partners in the North would like India to dramatically expand intellectual property protection, well beyond those required under India’s current international obligations, including the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. For instance, the European Union is attempting to restrict use of TRIPS-flexibilities and pushing for TRIPS-plus provisions—such as patent term extensions, data exclusivity, patent linkages and additional border measures that may block the free transit of medicines—which will delay entry of generics medicines into the market. India’s present patent law was crafted specifically to ensure both access to medicines and TRIPS-compliance. If India agrees to any of the demands of the developed countries, it will have an impact on access to medicines—not only for patients in India, but in developing countries as far as Brazil. Indian generic pharmaceutical companies provide low-cost, high quality generic drugs to large parts of the developing world and numerous international drug dispensing programmes.

On 12 March 2010, after a protest outside the Ministry of Commerce, Indian civil society actors met with Indian government officials from the Ministry of Commerce who promised to hold a civil society consultation on all IP issues in FTA currently under negotiation.

Loon Gangte, Delhi Network of Positive People, said, “Governments should not enter into any agreements that will increase intellectual property standards, and decrease access to essential medicines. TRIPS already has a negative impact on access to medicines. FTAs will further erode accessibility and put these life-saving medicines beyond the grasp of millions, not only in India, but the entire developing world. Patients in other developing countries have already told me about the painful impact they are facing because of such FTAs.”

According to Veriano Terto Jr., executive coordinator of the Brazilian GTPI, “Indian generic medicines are largely used by Brazilian AIDS patients. The continuous production and supply of these medicines without additional patent barriers in India are vital to the sustainability of the Brazilian access to medicines. We recognise that Indian generic versions play an important role in the price negotiations in the world. They are also key to promote price competition and broader access to treatment in the developing countries. The EU intellectual property policies through the FTA in negotiation with India represents additional obstacles for universal access to medicines in a global perspective. Furthermore, the Brazilian civil society is following with special interest the EU negotiations with India, because there FTA negotiations are also ongoing between EU and MERCOSUL, which could impose restrictions to the access to medicines in the region.”

Pointing out that India’s constitutional and international human rights obligations would be compromised by such agreements, Prathibha S, Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit, India, said, “These FTAs push TRIPS-plus provisions, such as data exclusivity, patent linkages, and patent-term extensions and also restrict TRIPS flexibilities. They infringe upon national sovereignty by effectively legislating India public health policy from abroad without taking into account India’s obligations under its Constitution and international human rights instruments.”

The most troubling aspect of these negotiations is the complete lack of transparency on the part of both the Indian and partnering governments. Negotiators on both sides have consistently met in secret. While civil society and public health groups have not been invited to these meetings, industry groups have been allowed a seat at the table effectively making guaranteeing an outcome that will turn back a decade’s worth of hard fought gains in access to medicines.

Mani Kandan, Programme Officer, Centre for Education and Communication and a member of Forum Against FTA, “No consultations with civil society, trade unions, farmers, and other stakeholders have been held. There has been great secrecy surrounding the FTA text. The right of millions of people to access low cost, high quality medicines is being bargained away without even the smallest amount of input from the most affected persons. Democratic accountability requires that these negotiations take place in the open, with draft documents available to the public, so that non-industry groups may contribute to these laws which will greatly affect them.”

Civil society and patient’s groups from India, Brazil and across the world demand that the European Union and others to withdraw their expansionist intellectual property demands. It is their obligation under the Doha Declaration and international human rights law to refrain from promoting policies that will deny millions of suffering people access to medicines they require. At the same time, it is hoped that the Government of India which, in 2005, heeded calls from patients in developing countries and introduced historic public health safeguards in its patent law, will do so again and demonstrate its commitment to patients over profit. A first step towards this would be holding public consultations with civil society stakeholders and opening up the negotiations to public scrutiny.

For more information, contact
Brazilian Working Group of Intellectual Property
Francisco Viegas Neves da Silva
Tel: +55 21 2223-1040

Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit, India
Prathibha S and Mihir Mankad (New Delhi): 011 4680 5555
Julie George (Mumbai): 022 2287 5482 / 3
Ramya S (Bengaluru): 080 4123 9130 / 31