At EU-India Summit, India must defend its ‘pharmacy of the developing world’

MSF urges Indian Prime Minister not to cave into pressure from EU to accept trade deal that could harm access to medicines for millions of people

Brussels/Geneva/New Delhi, 29 March, 2016 – Ahead of tomorrow’s EU-India Summit in Brussels, the international humanitarian medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to keep his country’s ‘pharmacy of the developing world’ open and to resist pressure from the European Union to accept harmful provisions in a trade deal that would restrict access to affordable medicines for millions of people.

Prime Minister Modi and EU officials are expected to announce at the Summit the resumption of negotiations in the nine-years-and-counting free trade agreement talks between the two trading partners. Negotiations have mostly stalled for nearly three years, but appear set to soon resume with many contentious issues remaining on the negotiating table. They include those surrounding intellectual property issues, which could have a serious negative impact on access to medicines, including on the production and export of affordable generic medicines from India.

“India is such a vital source of affordable, generic life-saving medicines on which millions of people around the world rely, that any blow to the pharmacy of the developing world would have disastrous consequences”, said Dr Joanne Liu, International President of MSF. “As a medical treatment provider to people in over 60 countries, MSF is incredibly reliant on generic medicines from India to do our work; two thirds of all the drugs we purchase to treat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria are Indian generics. The reality is we wouldn’t be able to treat as many people if it weren’t for affordable generic medicines from India.”

While intense pressure from groups of people living with HIV, hepatitis C and cancer successfully managed to remove some of the worst provisions from the negotiations over the years, a number of issues that would harm access to medicines remain. They include the enforcement of intellectual property, which – as proposed by the EU – could also see legitimate medicines being blocked from leaving India on their way to people in developing countries if a multinational company claims that their intellectual property is being infringed upon, as well as third parties – such as treatment providers like MSF – being embroiled in court cases simply for buying or using generic medicines that are under a patent dispute. Should generic medicines not make it to people on time, the health consequences for any delay or interruption of treatment for many diseases could be serious.

“While the free trade negotiations have been on hold, the EU has moved to raise the bar higher on enforcing intellectual property, by introducing measures on goods in transit through the EU in its new rules on trademarks”, said Helle Aagaard, EU Advocacy and Policy Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. “MSF has repeatedly called for the removal of such measures; we can’t afford to go back to a time where we kept seeing seizures of generic medicines within the EU that were intended to provide life-saving treatment for people in developing countries.”

MSF relies heavily on affordable Indian generics to conduct its medical work. Over 97% of the antiretroviral medicines MSF purchases to treat 230,000 people for HIV, and three quarters of the anti TB medicines to treat over 23,000 people for tuberculosis are sourced from Indian generic companies.

“With the EU-India trade negotiations set to resume, there’s still so much at stake for access to medicines”, said Leena Menghaney, South Asia Regional Head of MSF’s Access Campaign. “This EU-India Summit is where Prime Minister Modi needs to stand firm against Europe and tell them ‘no, India is not going to shut down the pharmacy of the developing world – too many lives are on the line’.”

In 2015, MSF launched a campaign – handsoff.msf.org – to urge Indian Prime Minister to protect India’s production of life-saving affordable generic medicines.

 Notes to the editor:

At the height of the EU‐India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations, Indian negotiators from the Commerce Ministry rejected patent term extensions and data exclusivity as being “well beyond” international trade rule obligations. In doing so, the government stated its position on the issue clearly—“On [the] intellectual property rights issue, whatever is discussed has to be in compliance with the TRIPS commitment”—and made an assurance publicly that instead, India will ensure that the high-quality generic drugs it produces continue to be accessible for all countries[1].

In the last decade, India has established a balanced position on the patent system. While India does grant patent monopolies to a number of new pharmaceutical products, it is trying to strike a balance between providing intellectual property (IP) protection and having the legal flexibility to protect the right to health. It does so in FTA negotiations. In the past decade, Indian trade negotiators have rejected any IP proposals in FTA negotiations with Japan and the EU that go beyond the requirements of the TRIPS Agreement.

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Anand Sharma Chairs Consultative Committee of Parliament on Challenges in IPR-International and Domestic, Press Release by Ministry of Commerce & Industry, 29 March 2011 http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=71341
India against inclusion of data exclusivity in any FTA, PTI, 6 April 2011 http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-04-06/news/29388653_1_data-exclusivity-drug-seizure-issue-data-protection.
India—EU free-trade pact could stifle generics industry, The Lancet, Volume 377, Issue 9774, Pages 1305 – 1306, 16 April 2011
FTA: India fights back over its generics, Alliance Sud News No. 70, Winter 2011/12 http://www.alliancesud.ch/en/policy/trade/fta-india-fights-back-over-its-generics
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