PM Committee asks Commerce ministry to go easy on India-EU trade pact

The Prime Minister’s Trade and Economic Relations Committee has stepped in after complaints by the Indian pharma industry over India’s planned trade agreement with the European Union.

The commerce ministry led by Anand Sharma has been negotiating a trade agreement — aimed at reducing import duties and facilitating better access for companies on both sides to each other’s market — for more than a year.

The negotiations have more or less drawn to a close, but the Pharma industry has made repeated representations both to the Prime Minister and the Commerce Minister that accepting European Union type patent rights over medicines and drugs would make many Indian products almost illegal.

India’s pharma industry is primarily focused on ‘off patent’ or ‘out of patent’ drugs — those that have seen their patents expire and are therefore free to be produced by anyone anywhere. Europeans, on the other hand, have their edge in developing new drugs and new combinations and getting exclusive right to manufacture them through patents.

Large shipments of Indian ‘generic’ or off-patent drugs were recently seized by EU authorities for being ‘illegal’ while on their way to Africa and other places, forcing Government of India to intervene strongly to rescue them.

The PMO said it has asked the Commerce Ministry not to agree to any new obligations on patents and intellectual property than what has already been agreed by India under the World Trade Organization framework.

“It was observed that concern has been raised by various quarters about the Indian stand on issues on Intellectual Property Rights, especially in the context of the Indian Pharma products. The Prime Minister firmly directed that the Indian side shall not take on any obligation beyond TRIPS (WTO) and Domestic Law,” the PMO said in a statement.

Anand Sharma, however, has always maintained that his ministry is not negotiating any binds and curbs that go beyond these obligations.

Meanwhile, the Committee, headed by the PM, also gave the go-ahead to start negotiations with Australia on a new free trade agreement between the two countries.

Noting that India and Australia do not have many competing export products, the Committee said:

“A comprehensive FT A between Australia and India would benefit both countries and such liberalization would provide impetus to economic activity and economic welfare in each economy.”

India recently inked trade agreements with Malaysia and Japan and has them with Singapore, Thailand and several other countries. It is negotiating with more than a dozen countries to carve out economic and trade agreements, while the EU agreement has seen delays due to domestic pushes and pulls.