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24th Mar 2019

Thousands march in India against EU trade deal

  • Opponents of the deal say an EU request for a 'data exclusivity' clause will drive up the price of generic drugs made in India (Photo: e-Magine Art)

Thousands of HIV-positive protesters took to the streets in downtown New Delhi on Wednesday (2 March), concerned that an imminent EU-India free trade agreement (FTA) will end the production of affordable life-prolonging drugs.

The rally of more than 2,000 demonstrators from India and other Asian countries coincided with the re-start of sensitive trade negotiations in Brussels, with officials suggesting an end to the 2007-initiated talks is in sight.

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But opponents of the deal say an EU request for a 'data exclusivity' clause will drive the price of generic drugs made in India above an affordable level for people in poorer countries.

"More than 80 percent of the AIDS drugs our medical practitioners use to treat 175,000 people in developing countries are affordable generics from India," said Paul Cawthorne, a spokesman for Paris-based humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

"Beyond AIDS, we rely on producers in India for drugs to treat other illnesses, such as tuberculosis and malaria. We cannot afford to let our patients lifeline be cut," Mr Cawthorne added, reports AFP.

Medicines have proved a sticking point in the ongoing discussions, with the EU keen to secure India's commitment to a strong intellectual property rights regime with respect to drugs.

European drug manufacturers complain that many of their patented products are frequently undercut by generics produced in India. EU customs officials have seized a number of containments bound for the 27-member state market over the past few years.

Until recently, Indian regulations allowed pharmaceutical companies to patent only drug-making processes and not the final products. Pressure from the World Trade Organisation has resulted in a tightening of those rules, but not as much as the EU would like.

Critics of the FTA say Europe's demand for 'data exclusivity' would mean that clinical trial data filed by one company could not be relied upon by other companies. As a result, the need for each firm to produce its own clinical trial tests would dramatically increase the price of medicines, they complain.

The United Nations is among those who also fear 'data exclusivity' provisions could act like a patent and block more affordable generic medicines from the market.

"It would be a colossal mistake to introduce data exclusivity in India, when millions of people across the globe depend on the country as the pharmacy of the developing world'," said Anand Grover, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.

The EU is India's largest trading partner. Bilateral trade in goods and services between the two sides in 2009 was worth just under €69 billion, according to European Commission figures.

Another sensitive issue in the talks relates to the automobile sector, one of the subjects being discussed by commission and Indian negotiators this week. Here Europe is pushing for a reduction in Indian import tariffs on European cars, currently around 110 percent. Indian car manufacturers are against the move.

"We are aware of the position of the Indian car industry with respect to the negotiations," EU trade spokesman John Clancy told the Business Standard newspaper this week. "But it is clear that in order for the EU to support this agreement, access to India's car market must be improved significantly."

A compromise deal could revolve around the abolition of tariffs on high-end, luxury cars, while small models retain a degree of protection.

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