Dec 4, 2014
Chennai: Alarm bells have been raised over the sixth round of negotiations of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that is currently underway in Delhi for its potential to hurt India’s intellectual property (IP) and trade interests.
The most serious concern is the possible impact on the access to affordable medicines in developing countries. The RCEP is being negotiated between the 10 Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries and Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
Several of the countries negotiating the RCEP are currently also negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with the US. According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), leaked drafts of the IP chapter show that the US is pushing for harmful provisions that go beyond WTO trade rules, which are aimed at restricting the ability of governments to regulate in the interest of the public health and delay the availability of low-cost generic versions of medicines.
“As countries are putting forth their own proposals for intellectual property chapter in the RCEP, we are worried that US-style IP provisions have been tabled that would roll back public health safeguards enshrined in international law and in India’s patent law,” said Anand Grover, director of the Lawyers Collective.
Japan, a key participant in the TPP agreement negotiations, is now closely allying with the US in pushing “extremely stringent IP standards” that undermine and delay access to affordable generic medicines, said MSF. It’s playing a leading role in pushing stringent standards for IP that will undermine and delay access to affordable generic medicines.
The leaked text of a proposal put forth by the government of Japan to the Working Group on IP – called the Elements Paper – includes harmful intellectual property provisions such as patent term extensions, data exclusivity and lowering of the patentability criteria, which serve to extend monopoly protection beyond what is required by international agreements and to create new kinds of monopolies, even after patent-based monopolies have expired or where they never existed.
“The right to life and health of people in developing countries is at stake in this deal. We want public assurances from the new Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, that any intellectual property provisions that would restrict generic competition and access to medicines will be taken off the table by India,” said Loon Gangte, International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) – South Asia. “We will continue to fight until these damaging provisions are officially and unequivocally out of the agreement.”
The RCEP could end up restricting access to life-saving medicines for millions in developing countries by targeting generic competition in India. Unless damaging IP provisions are removed by countries like India before negotiations are finalised, the RCEP agreement – like the TPP – is on track to become one of the most harmful free trade agreements ever for access to medicines in developing countries.
Indian government to reject any proposal that would restrict the production and supply of affordable generic medicines from India.
“India’s production of affordable medicines is a vital lifeline for MSF’s medical humanitarian operations and millions of people accessing treatment in developing countries. MSF alone purchases more than 80% of the HIV medicines used in its operations around the world from producers in India. Any inclusion of harmful IP provisions in trade agreements with India would threaten India’s role as the pharmacy for developing countries,” said Leena Menghaney, Regional Head- South Asia, MSF Access Campaign.
On an RTI application, the department of commerce has said that the negotiations are at an early stage and it was difficult to predict which sectors would benefit and which sectors could be adversely affected. Activists point out that the government hasn’t done an appropriate study before getting into such a crucial negotiation.
Trade specialists point out that since India already has free trade agreements (FTA) with other countries, this agreement in practical terms will be an FTA with China. An FTA with China, with which India has a trade deficit of $ 38 billion, will not be beneficial to India. Industry bodies such as Ficci and CII have opposed an FTA with China.
More over, India has a growing trade deficit with Asean, Japan and South Korea. The guiding principle of RCEP clearly shows that it will introduce further tariff cuts, which will again have an adverse impact on India.
It’s strange that with an avowed “make in India” policy, India is ceding its limited space. It’s also strange that this government is pursuing the same trade policies that had been pursued by the UPA.