Friday, 29 August 2014

Japan’s attempt to get in stricter patent protection into free trade agreement raises concern

NEW DELHI: Even as the Prime Minister's visit to Japan generates much excitement, there is concern among those working for improving access to medicines regarding Japan's attempt to get in stricter patent protection laws at the just-concluded round of negotiation of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which includes India.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between the ten member states of the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) and the six states with which ASEAN has existing FTAs - Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand. RCEP negotiations were formally launched in November 2012 at the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia.

At the third round of negotiation this year, Japan had tabled a proposal called the Elements paper which included stringent measures on intellectual property. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors without Borders, an international medical humanitarian organization, has written to the minister of state for commerce and industry Nirmala Sitharaman expressing concern over the inclusion of intellectual property in a proposed free trade agreement of which India is a negotiating member. "Japan's negotiating text on IP is 'TRIPS Plus' and if accepted will roll back public health safeguards enshrined in international and Indian patent law. It will put in place far-reaching monopoly protections that restrict generic competition and keep medicine prices unaffordable for MSF's patients, for millions of others around Asia and across the developing world," stated the letter.

It added that it was a matter of great concern as RCEP included India, with a robust generics pharmaceutical industry manufacturing two-thirds of all generic medicines, including over 80 per cent of all HIV medicines used in developing countries. This has earned India the title of 'pharmacy of the developing world'.

"Generic competition has proven to be the most effective way to reduce prices of essential medicines and improve access to treatment. In 2001, the price of HIV medicines came down from $10439 per patient per year to $350 per person per year. Indian companies contributed to the price reduction by manufacturing generic versions of the medicines. This broke the market monopoly of a few multinational pharmaceutical companies. It has also translated into a reduction of the cost of some first-line HIV medicines—by 99%—over the past decade. Since then health ministries, humanitarian medical treatment providers such as MSF, and donors have relied on affordable quality generic medicines to address global, regional and national public health challenges such as HIV, TB, Hepatitis and other diseases," stated the letter.

Already, India joining the World Trade Organisation's (WTO's) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement in 2005 has severely curtailed Indian manufacturers' freedom to produce affordable versions of new essential medicines. However, Indian patent law uses the flexibilities available under TRIPS to prevent misuse of patent monopolies and offers safeguards important for public health. So far, India has been committed to systematically resisting attempts to bring in more stringent patent laws, than what is required under TRIPS, through free trade agreements (FTAs)—first in the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Japan and in the EU-India FTA. In both cases Indian negotiators stood firm against some of the most problematic intellectual property provisions, such as data exclusivity and patent term extensions which would have adversely affected generic medicines production.

"Stringent IP rules introduced under the RCEP would further undermine the ability of Indian generics companies to make, register and supply affordable versions of medicines," stated the MSF letter.

As negotiations on RCEP gain momentum in the coming year, we urge the Indian Ministry of Commerce to monitor 'very closely' the negotiations on IP and to make sure the terms of any trade agreement reached 'do not impede free trade in generic medicines' that we and so many in the developing world rely upon," said Leena Menghaney, MSF Access Campaign. industry,New Zealand,Indian Ministry of Commerce,European Union

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