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EU firm on strong IP provision in free trade

Daily News and Analysis, India

EU firm on strong IP provision in free trade

By Priyanka Golikeri / DNA

8 June 2010

A key provision in the draft of the India-European Union (EU) free trade agreement (FTA) may have implications on the affordability of medicines, while also hurting the negotiations between the two trading blocs.

The EU is firm about not letting go of data exclusivity, a strict provision, which can delay market entry of all generic medicines.
EU Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, in a letter (copy of which is with this newspaper) to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which is a humanitarian aid organisation, says that the European Commission (EC) is committed to ensuring that people in the world’s poorest countries have access to affordable medicines and would be prepared for necessary flexibility in this case and won’t object to exceptions to data exclusivity.

“But the message is that though EC would give waivers in some cases, overall, data exclusivity is something India will have to accept if it wants to seal the FTA,” said a top healthcare expert.

The letter was in response to concerns expressed by MSF over data exclusivity and other IP provisions in the FTA.

However, according to a top official from the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, anything which can affect people in India would not be negotiated in the FTA.

Tido von Schoen Angerer, executive director-campaign for access to essential medicines, MSF, said the impact of such provisions is experienced directly by patients, especially those from countries which don’t have manufacturing capacity to produce medicines and rely on drugs from India. “It is crucial that generic competition remains possible in India as many lives depend on it worldwide.”

MSF buys more than 80% of their AIDS drugs, and 25% of the drugs for malaria, TB, and antibiotics from India.

Moreover, approximately 50% of essential medicines that Unicef distributes in developing countries come from India, while 75-80% of medicines distributed by International Dispensary Association are made in India.

Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul, coordinator, health consumer protection programme, Chulalongkom University in Thailand said that India is the pharmacy of the developing world.

“Millions with HIV are able to lead a healthy life due to the antiretroviral drugs produced in India. Hence, any provision in the FTA, that can hamper early entry of generics, can affect patients not only in India, but also millions in the developing world,” said Kijtiwatchakul.

According to the Delhi-based IP expert, data exclusivity is beyond the ambit of the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights agreement (TRIPs) of the World Trade Organisation, which India is party to.

BK Keayla, convenor, National Working Group on Patent Laws, said the FTA is an attempt to colonise the economic strength of a country. “TRIPs plus provisions, especially in healthcare, should not be entertained.”