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EU urged to avoid 'pressurising' India at summit

Online Publication Date: 13 February 2012

By Martin Banks - 10th February 2012

http://www.theparliament.com/latest-news/article/newsarticle/eu-urged-to-avoid-pressurising-india-at-summit/

A leading charity is calling on the EU 'not to pressurise' India into agreeing new trade rules at a key summit in New Delhi on Friday.

Oxfam says that failure to heed its demand at the 12th EU-India summit could 'deny hundreds of millions of people access to affordable medicines'.

The EU is, according to Oxfam, trying to impose new intellectual property and investment (IP) rules in India, which the charity says would result in 'drastically higher' medicine prices for the poorest people across the globe.

India plays a critical role in the global medicines market, producing over two-thirds of all generic medicines; affordable versions of drugs licensed by multinational companies, which are largely sold to poor and middle income countries.

Currently, over 80 per cent of all HIV and AIDS medicines are manufactured by generic companies in India, but if new trade rules are agreed the price of life-saving treatment would increase drastically, says Oxfam.

Oxfam policy advisor, Rohit Malpani, said, "The summit on Friday will be closely watched to see whether the EU and India will negotiate a trade agreement which puts people's lives before the commercial interests of multinational drug companies.

"At a time of austerity and declining aid budgets, especially for health, efforts to increase medicine prices for the world's poor would be a double blow and have a devastating impact on the achievement of health-related millennium development goals."

Oxfam India CEO, Nisha Agrawal, said, "The Indian government - until now - has repeatedly rejected EU demands to introduce any of the additional intellectual property rules under the free trade agreement. We strongly support that stance.

"Given the background of ongoing policy level discussions on universal, affordable and free access to health care in India, to introduce additional intellectual property rules as a condition of the free trade agreement (FTA) would be contradictory, since it would escalate the cost of medicines in India and also across the developing world."

Malpani added, "If the EU succeeds in imposing strict IP rules upon the Indian government, the massive hike in medicine prices could undermine European leadership to provide international aid for global health. Worryingly it could also debilitate donor programmes that provide access to treatment around the world."

However, Shada Islam, head of policy at the Brussels-based think tank, Friends of Europe, said that negotiations on a first-ever EU-India free trade agreement are "injecting much-needed excitement" into Europe’s relationship with India.

She said, "Despite earlier hopes, the trade deal will not be signed at the summit. But the buzz generated by the negotiations as they enter a critical final stage is helping to lift Europe's profile in a country which has so far kept the EU at a polite arms length.

"Significantly the trade talks, now into their fifth year, have helped to focus official and public attention in India on the EU – rather than individual European member states - as a global economic player."

She adds, "Once the FTA is completed, the EU and India must pay increased attention to other aspects of their relations. Both sides can set key priorities which meet India's requirements as a dynamic emerging power but a country which is also struggling to combat poverty and exclusion.

"As India rises along with the rest of Asia, it deserves stronger EU recognition as a regional and global power, not just an expanding market for EU exports and investments."

She predicts that commission president José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European council who will attend the summit, will 'want to do more than talk trade' with India.

Islam says they will also try and convince their host Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh to join the international sanctions regime against Iran.


 

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