Source: Business Line
MUMBAI, SEPT. 25:
Even as the India-US nuclear deal takes much of the attention, on the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the United States – pro-health groups caution that pressure on India is likely to increase through negotiations of a potential bilateral investment treaty between the two countries.
India is facing an onslaught of political pressure from the US government and its pharmaceutical industry, in retaliation for the country’s entirely legal actions to limit abusive patenting practices and increase access to affordable generic medicines, said international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières, popularly known as Doctors Without Borders.
The pro-health group’s statement comes even as the Prime Minister is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama, during his four-day visit.
“Every country has the right to take steps to increase access to medicines and implement a patent system in line with its public health needs,” said Leena Menghaney, Manager of MSF’s Access Campaign in India. “Even though India is acting completely within its rights, the country must now deal with unrelenting, unwarranted and purposely misleading attacks from the multinational pharmaceutical industry and US government officials.”
Sue India outside?
This pressure will only increase as talks on a new trade deal get underway. Any new agreement would almost certainly contain provisions allowing pharmaceutical companies to sue India outside of domestic courts, the group said. Several such disputes have already been filed by US corporations against governments. For example, tobacco company Philip Morris, using a provision in an investment agreement, is suing Australia for hundreds of millions of dollars over a government law that mandates plain packaging on cigarette packs.
This month, US pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly used the very same tactics to start proceedings against Canada in a foreign tribunal, claiming $500 million as compensation on the grounds that a Canadian court’s decisions to invalidate patents on some of the company’s best-selling medicines deprived it of future profits and interfere with the enjoyment of its investments, the note said.
The US Government has a policy of negotiating and exerting pressure on governments to give foreign investors the right to sue governments-known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement—for high amounts of damages if a law or policy harms their investment. India will face the same pressure to include such provisions as it pushes to negotiate a trade deal with the US, the group added. .
“In a world where medicines are increasingly being patented, which blocks the production of more affordable generic versions, we’re going to see more and more people become sick or die because the medicines they need to stay alive are simply too expensive,” Menghaney said.
Drive down prices
India is a critical producer of affordable medicines and competition among Indian generic producers have brought down, by more than 90 percent, the price of medicines to treat diseases such as HIV, TB and cancer.
The majority of the antiretroviral medicines purchased by the US government’s global AIDS program come from India, and more than 80 percent of the HIV medicines MSF uses to treat more than 280,000 people with HIV in 21 countries are generics from India, the statement said.
But the policies that make India the ‘pharmacy of the developing world’ are under threat as routine decisions by India’s patent offices and Courts are subject to international scrutiny and India faces increased political pressure from the US, the statement added.
Ever since India amended its Patents Act in 2005, it has attracted intense debate. And the implementation of the Act has been criticised by US-based industry associations and sections of its Congress-men. And the decibel level around the Act has further increased as India explores the option of issuing CLs on more drugs, in the interest of public health.
Referring to the different cases where the judiciary has ruled in favor of public interest, the statement said: “these decisions by the Indian judiciary are compliant with existing World Trade Organization rules on trade including those outlined in the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) and the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health, both of which defend access to existing medicines by allowing countries to use flexibilities such as patent oppositions and compulsory licenses to overcome intellectual property barriers.”