Mumbai: Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, an international not-for-profit organisation working in the field of access to affordable medicines, has cautioned India on the inclusion of intellectual property (IP) in the ongoing negotiations of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed free trade agreement of which India is now a negotiating member.
MSF’s alert comes ahead of the next RCEP ministerial conference to be held in Myanmar on 27-28 August 2014.
In a letter addressed to Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s minister of state for commerce and industry, the group said on Tuesday that India should reject all draft IP proposals that harm access to medicines and ensure that the final text of negotiations is aligned with relevant global public health commitments.
MSF is an independent medical humanitarian organization that delivers medical care to people affected by armed conflicts, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from formal healthcare systems in nearly 70 countries. The group wants to ensure no unfair monopoly protection blocks access to affordable medicines.
“We know that at the third round of RCEP negotiations this year, an intellectual property working group (IPWG) was established and the government of Japan had speedily tabled a proposal—called the Elements paper—with stringent IP text that exceeds the member country obligations to the World Trade Organisaton,” MSF said in the letter.
The NGO cautioned that Japan’s negotiating text, if accepted, will roll back public health safeguards enshrined in international and Indian patent laws. “It will put in place far-reaching monopoly protections that restrict generic competition and keep medicine prices unaffordable for Médecins Sans Frontières’ patients, for millions of others around Asia and across the developing world,” it added.
India, with a robust generics pharmaceutical industry, manufactures two-thirds of all generic medicines, including over 80% of all HIV medicines used in developing countries. Since competition in generics has proved to be the most effective way to reduce prices of essential medicines and improve access to treatment, it is vital to ensure that the generics industry is not affected by unsubstantiated negotiations on patent protection, the letter emphasized.
RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement and negotiations on it were formally launched in November 2012. There have been five rounds of negotiations till date.