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EFTA for tougher IPR rules under ongoing trade talks

LiveMint logoLiveMint 22-03-2017 Asit Ranjan Mishra

New Delhi: The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) that includes Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein has insisted on stricter provisions of intellectual property rights (IPR) under the ongoing negotiations for a Trade & Economic Partnership Agreement (TEPA) with India.

The position is stated in a leaked note on the proposed IPR chapter of the negotiations published by non-profit body Knowledge Ecology International at a time negotiations on the chapter are underway in New Delhi. Switzerland proposes that India agree to broader patentable principles, particularly on biologic products; adopt exclusive rights in data used to support the registration of new drugs and vaccines; and eliminate its requirements for local manufacturing of patented inventions.

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The note, dated 15 March, followed a telephone conversation between Indian commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Swiss minister for economic affairs, education and research J. Schneider-Ammann to take stock of the TEPA negotiations. “Minister Sitharaman asked her Swiss counterpart for a short note setting out two particular points of negotiations in intellectual property rights (IPR) relating to the protection of patents and the protection of undisclosed information of pharmaceutical and agrochemical products in marketing approval procedures (test data protection),” the note said.

Arguing in favour of patent data protection, Switzerland held solid and reliable patent protection is not only important for any innovative pharmaceutical company, but just as much for other knowledge-based and innovative industries especially biotechnology which produces expensive cancer drugs. The note also argued against granting compulsory licensing in case a drug is not produced in India but imported into the country. It also seeks to protect the rights of pharma companies to keep patents by making minor changes in the formulation of drugs—known as evergreening—through data exclusivity.

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“We are worried that the harmful provisions the Swiss government is pushing for, which go beyond what’s required under internationally-agreed law, will further create exclusive rights for profiteering and serve to undermine what remains of generic competition in India,” said Leena Menghaney, South Asia Head of MSF’s Access Campaign.“We hope that Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s commitment to not engage in these excessive provisions, known as ‘TRIPS-Plus’ measures, will remain firm in the EFTA negotiations.”

The free trade negotiations started in October 2008, and 13 rounds had been held until November 2013. Chief negotiators decided to resume negotiations in 2016 after taking stock of their status, and a 14th round was held in October. During this 15th round in January, experts from both sides held targeted discussions on outstanding issues regarding trade in goods and services, rules of origin and intellectual property rights, while heads of delegations reviewed the state of play of all other topics under discussion.

Indian exports to EFTA region grew 13.7% to $1.5 billion in 2015-16 while imports contracted by 14% to $19.9 billion during the same period.

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