NEW DELHI (AP) - Efforts by India and the European Union to strengthen trade are threatening India’s ability to deliver lifesaving medicines to the world’s poorest, analysts say as the two sides resume protracted negotiations on a free-trade pact.
But health industry workers and activists worry that India may bow to EU demands for strict intellectual property protections and investor guarantees, which could result in the slow poisoning of its own generic pharmaceutical industry.
India’s $26 billion drug industry has become an immense profit engine, growing at 15-25 percent a year _ but also a lifeline for millions of patients in poor countries, many in Africa, unable to pay sky-high Western prices to treat illnesses that include HIV, malaria, asthma and cancer. For HIV alone, India makes more than 80 percent of the world’s medicines.
Despite the EU assurance, Indian drug makers and health workers say two broad provisions in the agreement _ one on intellectual property rights, and the other on investor lawsuits _ would make it much easier for international pharmaceutical giants to sue the Indian government, drug manufacturers and distributors.
That, they argue, would dramatically curtail Indian production of lifesaving drugs.
“The EU has changed strategy and has now focused on enforcement,” trying to create an intellectual property rights regime “that will intimidate even legitimate generic manufacturers and thereby impact access and availability,” said Dilip G. Shah, a former Pfizer executive who now heads both the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance and the industry’s Vision Consulting Group.
Activists have unleashed a global campaign to call the EU out on the policies. Analysts and drug makers say they have a point. While India’s pharmaceutical companies would likely survive under a regime limiting generics, millions of the world’s neediest patients, including within India, may not.
“The industry will be OK. They can produce anything” including drugs for Western multinationals, pharmaceutical analyst Bino Pathiparampil of IIFL Capital said. They may also gain from easier access to European markets.
“But there would be a serious impact on society, as many of the poor would be cut off from treatments,” he said.
Since the talks began in 2007, Indian negotiators have refused to hamper the country’s generic drug industry by undermining the low-cost production, high-quality professionalism or permissive licensing regime that has helped the industry grow.
But India and the EU both face different pressures today than when they started five years ago. Following a year of economic turmoil, Europe is eager to reach India’s young and upwardly mobile market of 1.2 billion people, while India wants to prove its place among the world’s economic powerhouses.
Now would also be an ideal time for India’s government to show progress on a pact that can distract from a year of embarrassing corruption scandals.View Entire Story
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