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’Keep IPR away from free trade agreements’

The Hindu Business Line | Apr. 30, 2010

`Keep IPR away from free trade agreements’

P.T. Jyothi Datta

Mumbai — Civil rights groups want the Government to keep Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) outside the ambit of Free Trade Agreements (FTA) being negotiated between India and several other regions including the European Union and Japan.

Even as officials of the Indian Government entered the last day of FTA-related discussions in Brussels on Friday, patient-rights groups and the Forum against FTA (a network for farmer rights, patient- advocacy and tradeunion groups) staged protests both in New Delhi and Mumbai against an FTA with the EU.

Though the text of FTAs are not generally made public, the Government needs to bring out a white paper, have public consultations and be more transparent on the text of the FTAs being discussed, as it would affect access to medicines in India, said Ms Julie George of Lawyers Collective, participating in the Mumbai protest.

The concern is that developed countries are looking to get more on the IP front, than what is envisaged in the Indian Patent Act, she said. For instance, developed markets are looking to get patent-term extensions, besides linking investment to IP and compensations for related delays, she said. The patent system awards a 20-year exclusivity on sales, but countries are looking to get an extension on that to compensate for other delays, she said.

They are also pushing for data exclusivity and border measures, she said, referring to instances where Indian exports of generic copies of medicines to countries such as Brazil were seized at ports of transit in Europe on grounds of patent infringement.

IPR is not part of the present round of negotiations at Brussels, a Union Commerce Ministry official told Business Line, adding that all discussions were within the ambit of the Indian Patent Law. Further, the official added, the Government was in consultation with stake-holders and the text of the FTA was shared with pharmaceutical associations and patientadvocacy groups.

In the past, the Indian Government has stood by domestic drug companies whose exports had been seized at the EU ports, saying that such border measures amounted to non-tariff barriers.

Efforts to equate generic versions of innovative medicines with counterfeit have been thwarted by the Indian Government at global fora.

However, the Forum against FTA’s Mr Manikandan said, the Government needed to undertake a broader discussion on the FTAs it was negotiating, with specific reference to agriculture and the subsidies in the EU that could make Indian agri-exports unviable and threaten access to medicines.

 source: istockanalyst