Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman demands food safety clearance mechanism during talks with US Trade Representative
Source: The Hindu BusinessLine | October 20, 2016
India and the US continued to differ on the issue of intellectual property rights (IPR) norms at the bilateral Trade Policy Forum meeting on Thursday.
While Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman cited a UN report to “vindicate’’ the country’s stand on not going beyond the commitments made in the global TRIPS Agreement, US Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman said that he was looking forward to India developing new laws and policies.
The US also expressed concern about India’s effort to renegotiate and weaken some of its existing agreements (on investments) even as Sitharaman called for an institutional mechanism for food safety clearance be put in place and conformity assessment processes should be in line with international practices such as Codex guidelines and Sanitary & Phytosanitary (SPS) rules.
Addressing a press conference after the bilateral dialogue, Sitharaman told reporters that India is very clear that it is not ready to engage with anyone on ‘TRIPS plus’ issues which could lead to ever-greening of patents or blocking of compulsory licences”.
“I pointed out to the USTR that a report brought out by a UN high level panel on access to medicines clearly vindicates India’s position on TRIPS plus issues such as data exclusivity and patent linkages,” Sitharaman said at a press conference on Thursday following her trade policy forum (TPF) dialogue with the USTR.
India is a signatory to the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and changed its patents legislation in 2005 moving from a process patent regime to a product patent one.
The US, however, has been complaining for long that India’s IPR laws are not strong enough to give adequate protection to all patent holders. It has been pushing India to make any changes on controversial laws such as Section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act — a prime demand of multinational pharmaceutical companies. Section 3(d) discourages patents being granted for incremental innovations.
USTR Froman, in an address at the University of Chicago Centre in New Delhi, said, “while there are differences of opinion on the issue, the US is keenly looking forward to India developing laws and regulations under the National IP Policy.”
Alluding to the new bilateral investment treaty (BIT) framed by the Department of Economic Affairs, the USTR said that India’s effort to renegotiate and weaken some of its existing agreements is concerning, particularly at a time when regional emerging markets such as China and Vietnam are working to attract investments by negotiating higher standard agreements.
India also raised the issue of the sharp increase in visa fees hitting Indian IT sector workers and the pending totalisation agreement with the US which could save the country an estimated $4 billion in social security payouts by short-term work visa holders who can’t utilise it.
The US is India’s largest export partner accounting for more than $40 billion of exports in 2015-16. The TPF is a forum for both countries to air their grievances in trade and investment related issues.