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India, EU Trade Agreement Will Not Restrict Ability For India Pharmaceutical Firms To Export Generic Drugs, Official Says

“India and the European Union (EU) have agreed that the comprehensive bilateral trade agreement being negotiated by the two will not result in an intellectual property regime that restricts the ability of Indian pharmaceutical firms to export generic or off-patent drugs by being far more stringent than the TRIPS [Trade-Related Aspects of International Property Rights] regime of the World Trade Organization,” LiveMint.com reports in an article that describes recent debates over the agreement. “The two sides agreed to this at a meeting between Indian trade minister Anand Sharma and his counterpart in the European Commission (EC), Karel De Gucht, at Brussels on 29 November, said a senior commerce ministry official on condition of anonymity,” the news service reports.

According LiveMint.com, “[t]he EU and most other developed countries believe a TRIPS-plus pact is a must for tackling the problem of counterfeit drugs,” but “India’s pharma firms and activist groups have been vociferous opponents of the proposed bilateral pact on the grounds that it will require India to make a so-called TRIPS-plus (more stringent than TRIPS) commitment, which will, in turn, limit its capability in terms of producing and exporting low-cost drugs.” The article notes that India is the leading manufacturer of generic medications for regions in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

“The commerce ministry official said that a declaration on the comprehensive bilateral pact not having any TRIPS-plus riders will likely be made during the EU-India summit on 10 December at Brussels, which will be attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” the news service continues. 

“The agreement will in no way limit India’s scope for developing and exporting life-saving medicines. Specifically, it will not stop India from using its flexibilities under the agreement on TRIPS, in particular, the possibility of manufacturing generic medicines under compulsory licence for export to other developing countries facing public health problems,” the official said. However, the news service notes, “Mint couldn’t independently confirm the change in the EU’s stance. The EU’s spokesperson in India didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.”

The article also includes comments by D.G. Shah of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) and Leena Menghaney of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) (Mishra, 12/8).

During their closed-door meetings last month, Sharma and De Gucht “also agreed to conclude the deal by the spring of 2011, while by March both were expected to initial the agreement, said [a senior commerce department] official,” Business Standard reports. “According to the official, both Indian as well as European consumers would stand to gain from cheaper imports in different segments. Similarly, both would also benefit facilitating the temporary provision of services,” the news service adds.

“We are in the last mile of the negotiations. The agreement is going to be highly ambitious and would not be confined only to duty elimination but would also cover trade in services, investment and regulatory issues,” the official said (Basu, 12/8).

Economic Times, also reporting on the proposed trade agreement, notes several campaigns by international organizations targeting the EU to protect India’s ability “to produce and export affordable generic drugs” (12/8).

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