India is the poor man’s pharmacy…

…As long as the pharmaceutical lobby allows it: planned eu-india free trade agreement threatens access to cheap medicines

The planned free trade agreement between the eu and india puts indian generic drug producers in conflict with the western pharmaceutical lobby. Many aid organizations fear that supplying the poorest with cheap aids drugs could become increasingly difficult.

India is the poor man’s pharmacy. Over the past 20 years, the country has increasingly become one of the most important producers of affordable medicines. Indian generics producers have become one of the most important players in this multi-billion dollar market. Especially the production of aids drugs is of particular importance for the country. India has one of the highest rates of new hiv infections in the world.

A problem that the government in delhi can only counter with favorable generic drugs. For despite all the prophecies of doom in the german press about the middle class on the subcontinent, which is growing much too fast from a conservative point of view, the majority of the indian population still lives on about two dollars a day and is thus helplessly exposed to many diseases.

No problem for europe

For the european union, however, this circumstance seems to be primarily an indian problem. In the negotiations between the eu and india, brussels tried to push through much stricter patent rights for medicines than those demanded by the world trade organization (wto), for example, according to discussions with people familiar with the negotiations.

For example, the agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (trips) clearly states that the term of protection for patents should be 20 years. The eu, however, wanted to enforce a protection period of up to 40 years.

For generic producers, this meant that they could only start producing drugs with the same effect, but much cheaper, after this period had expired. And for the population dependent on cheap drugs, this meant that they either had to dig deeper into their pockets or do without medical care.

In addition to these demands, the eu tried to go much further. It also wanted to protect the data basis for the approval of new medications. Every time a new drug is developed, extensive tests must first be carried out on test subjects. On the basis of the efficacy of the new drug, the authorities then ie the corresponding approvals.

The eu demanded a so-called data exclusivity with a protection period of 10 years. This meant that generic drug developers could not rely on this data and thus had to conduct their own tests. In addition to the high costs of this complex development work, the production of favorable generic drugs has been further delayed.

Aid organizations mobilize against the agreement

Tido von schoen-angerer, head of the medicines campaign of the aid organization doctors without borders, told telepolis:

From the start, the eu-india free trade agreement threatened to impede access to vital medicines – and it still contains dangerous provisions.

It was only through a huge mobilization of activists who resolutely opposed the threat to their lives that provisions like data exclusivity were averted. It is inconceivable how long regulations that obviously threaten global health have been the subject of negotiations.

Massive influence from lobbying organizations

At present, both eu demands seem to be off the table. However, since the negotiations are primarily taking place behind closed doors, it is not clear what results will ultimately emerge.

As early as 2007, the lobbycontrol initiative reported that the umbrella organization businesseurope was preaching to the choir of eu commissioners. A 2010 study by corporate europe observatory (ceo), an organization that works with lobbycontrol, suggests that negotiations are being led more by lobbyists than by the commissioners themselves.

An internal letter is mentioned in which the cooperation between the commissioners and the european industry association businesseurope is described as quite pleasing. A businesseurope official said, according to the report: "we can use the commission as our mouthpiece in the fta." at the moment, the report cannot be downloaded from the internet because the site has been hacked and is therefore offline.

Meanwhile, the final details of the agreement are still being negotiated. The green parliamentary group in the european parliament has already announced opposition. There are serious concerns about the planned agreement. Whether this parliamentary resistance can prevail against the interests of the lobbying associations remains to be seen in the coming weeks.