EU-India Free-Trade Negotiations Could Limit Access To Affordable, Generic Drugs, Advocacy Group Says

The advocacy group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) recently warned that free-trade negotiations between the EU and India could limit access to “affordable generic drugs” for people in India and the rest of the developing world, Reuters reports. “Back in 2005 India granted patents on medicines to respect international trade rules and MSF said a new free-trade agreement now under negotiation would tighten these rules,” the news service writes. The EU said it has not requested that India stop producing low-cost generic drugs.

Approximately 150 to 200 people, including HIV-positive people, protested in New Delhi ahead of the negotiations. Loon Gangte, president of the Delhi Network of Positive People, “said international trade rules that India had already signed up to meant some newer AIDS treatments were patented and unaffordable, and the new EU agreement could further compromise access to life-saving medicine,” according to Reuters (Lynn, 3/12).

In an MSF press release, Leena Menghaney, an MSF campaigner, said, “As the source of 92 percent of the AIDS medicines used in developing countries today, India is the pharmacy of the developing world.  So the impact of this also stretches far beyond India.” According to MSF, “Specific measures that Europe is pushing such as data exclusivity, which delays the registration of generic medicines, and an extension of the patent term beyond 20 years, are unnecessary under international rules” (3/12).

Reuters reports that the “closed-door talks in New Delhi will be followed by formal negotiations in Brussels in April (3/12).

In related news, Inter Press Service examines the EU’s role in funding Uganda’s Counterfeit Goods Bill, which some believe if passed would hamper “access to life-saving generic medicines in this low income East African country.” Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s state minister for industry, explained the EU’s link to the legislation: “We get support from the European Union. … You have seen our markets flooded with counterfeit goods. Those goods are not only impacting our lives but they are killing our industries. I think it is better to work with the EU and other partners to fight those goods.”

“The financing agreement is aimed at supporting Uganda’s implementation of the economic partnership agreement (EPA) between the EU and East African countries,” IPS writes. The article examines the controversy surrounding the proposed law, which some argue “makes no distinction between legal generic medication and counterfeits” and fails to “address the problem of bad quality as it confuses [intellectual property] rights with quality standards” (Michael, 3/15).

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