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India defies RCEP opposition to generics

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) at an RCEP Leaders’ Meeting.

India takes a defiant stance against patent laws proposed by the Regional Cooperation on Economic Partnership (RCEP) that could see it lose its trading advantage as the “pharmacy of the developing world”.

Hundreds of Indian officials have taken part in RCEP negotiations in South Korea in late October. The negotiations covered a potential free trade agreement which could establish the largest trading bloc in the world, incorporating 45 percent of the world’s population.

Numerous components of the free trade agreement were discussed, including pharmaceuticals, agriculture, fisheries, dairy, e-commerce and the service sector.

For the pharmaceuticals industry, the RCEP presents some problematic proposals. As part of the agreement, both Japan and Korea have been pressing for more stringent intellectual property laws. If enforced, this could entail India observing  patent rules that could potentially cease the production of many generic medications within the country.

India has objected to  a number of these proposals. It reportedly refused outright extending patent terms and data exclusivity. Data exclusivity would allow for the original creator of a medication to stop  generics companies from using the research data that led to the creation of the medicine. This could prevent Indian generics companies from making cheaper versions of the drug without doing studies of their own

The RCEP is not the only source of pressure for India change its drug policies. Following discussions with the US, requests have been made for India to not cap the prices of any further medical devices. These requests coincide with the withdrawal of cardiac stents from the Indian market by Abbott Healthcare.

Indian officials have stated opposition to any new regulations put in place that exceed the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). “India won’t compromise. The TRIPS framework is adequate for drug company’s profits. We have challenged all TRIPS-Plus provisions very strongly” commented one official attending the negotiations.

Activists observing the events at the week’s discussions have come out in support of India. Many believe that by limiting India’s capacity to produce low cost generic alternatives, many developing nations will see severely reduced access to healthcare.

The RCEP could, however, be hugely profitable for India. India has currently agreed to policies which would see around 80 percent of tariffs removed on the import and export of goods between participating nations.

Negotiations have so far seen India taking a middle ground approach. Approving many aspects of deals which would ease the flow of goods between nations, but taking a far more hard line in terms of patent laws.

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