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EU assures FTA won’t lead to costlier life-saving drugs

EU assures FTA won’t lead to costlier life-saving drugs

ET Bureau | 4 May 2010

NEW DELHI: The European Commission has said the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with India will not affect production of cheap life-saving medicines in the country.

“In the intellectual property rights (IPR) chapter (of the FTA), it will be made clear that there should be no limit on India’s capacity to produce and export life-saving medicines,” EU ambassador and head of delegation to India Danielle Smadja said.

Over the last few weeks there have been a series of protests carried out by international non-government organisations against the “negative consequences” of the proposed India-EU FTA for procurement and export of cheaper generic Indian medicines to developing countries in Latin America and Africa.

Referring to a leaked text of the draft agreement, civil society organisations pointed out that it would lead to India going beyond the obligations it has taken as part of the global intellectual property agreement—Trips—and would delay entry of generic (off-patent) medicines in the market.

India’s present IP regime ensure that people have continued access to cheap life-saving drugs while respecting the provisions of the Trips agreement and issuing product patents. EU wants India to go beyond the Trips agreement in the bilateral FTA being negotiated.

Ms Smadja said both the EU and India had agreed at the start of the negotiations that the agreement would go beyond what was there in Trips. “Before starting the negotiations, both parties carried out a joint study and it was decide to work on a Trips-plus agreement,” she said.

However, she added that the EU had noted the points of concern raised by the pharmaceutical industry and civil society and was willing to work on it. She said the leaked text was just a starting text for carrying out the negotiations and was by no means the agreement itself. “The text will take into account views put forward by both sides,” she said.

A commerce department official said the civil society was needlessly worried about the outcome of the IPR talks as India had never shown any inclination towards giving flexibility in the area.

“Both at the World Trade Organisation and in the bilaterals that we negotiate, we have strongly defended our right not to take on additional commitments in IPR, especially when it comes to medicines. We are not likely to switch track now,” he said.

The issue of including non-trade issues like labour and environment in the agreement seems to be continuing to hang fire. While India has said that it will not allow the issues to be part of the talks, the EU says that its Parliament is keen that they be included.

“We have to consider what is in the mind of the constituency of EU and also get the EU Parliament’s consent,” the ambassador said. She expressed hopes that the FTA (officially called the trade and investment agreement), which seeks to liberalise trade in goods, services and investment, will be concluded before the next India-EU Summit at the end of the year.

 source: The Economic Times