Global Trade India's pharmacy role threatened by EU

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 push through protracted negotiations on a free-trade pact.

The two sides said after a summit Friday in New Delhi that they would speed up efforts to reach an agreement this year.

Health industry workers and activists worry India may bow to EU demands for strict intellectual property protections and investor guarantees, which could close down the world's generic drug supply.

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, India makes more than 80 percent of the world's medicines.

The EU says it has suggested a clause in the free-trade pact "to ensure that nothing in the proposed agreement would limit India's freedom to produce and export lifesaving 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 drug manufacturers and distributors.

"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, who 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 needy patients, may not.

Published: Mon, Feb 13, 2012