Policies meant to protect public health must be kept out of the purview of trade agreements, Indian medical professionals, researchers, patients and public health activists have said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
They were especially concerned about U.S. demands for removal of price caps on medical devices and the strengthening of intellectual property rights for foreign pharmaceutical companies in the ongoing trade negotiations. A trade deal may be on the cards as U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to visit India later this month.
In mid-January, the Commerce Ministry held a meeting with stakeholders to review India’s patent and IPR laws. “During the meeting, participants from law firms representing their foreign multinational pharmaceutical companies insisted on removing public interest safeguards in the Patents Act such as provisions restricting the scope of patentability, local working as a ground for granting of a compulsory license, pre-grant oppositions,” said the letter. The over 30 signatories included the Campaign for Access to Medicines, All India Drug Action Network and the Delhi Network of Positive People.
They noted that the U.S. has been the biggest critic of the public health friendly provisions enshrined in the Indian IPR laws, and warned that conceding to Washington’s demands would undermine the availability of affordable generic medicines and have a “devastating impact” on all national health programmes.
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Removing price controls on medical devices and regulating only trade margins, as the U.S. has demanded, would allow manufacturers to fix very high introductory prices and compromise access to medical devices, the letter said, calling it a “back door attempt” to neutralise the price caps.
“There is no precedent of India negotiating price control policies in trade and it is critical that policies meant to protect public health are kept outside the purview of trade agreements,” it added.
The U.S. has been disappointed by the announcement of an import cess on medical devices announced in the Union Budget last week, according to sources aware of the trade talks, The Hindu has reported.
Source: The Hindu