Published On: Wed, Mar 20th, 2013

Public Lives or Private Interests?: The India-EU Free Trade Agreement

img_4264India and the European Union (EU) have a long history of bilateral relations. India was one of the first countries to establish relations with the EU after the United Kingdom joined. Since 1973, relations have strengthened considerably. Today, the EU accounts for 20% of Indian imports and exports, making it India’s largest trading partner. Since 1973, officials from the EU and India meet regularly to discuss various issues on the agenda. The most recent round of meetings commenced in September 2008. The 2008 EU-India summit took place in Marseille, France to establish further relations in the fields of nuclear energy and environmental protection. In 2009, the two powers began drafting the EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which is currently still under discussion and will probably be concluded and signed by April 2013. After the document has been signed however, it has to be ratified by both the European Commission and the Indian congress. The FTA has been said to have both positive and negative effects. Agricultural farmers in India will benefit as crops will be imported to the EU at a cheaper cost, tariffs will be sharply reduced on other goods in both markets, and the FTA will also seek to liberalize services and investment provisions.  The FTA however, is also said to have a large impact on many laws, especially in India, specifically in the fields of intellectual property rights, patent and copyright laws, and pharmaceutical laws. This could significantly affect the cost of healthcare in India, the EU and even more so in other Lesser Economically Developed Countries.

To many, India is known as the pharmacy of the developing world. The generic drug industry is among the largest in the world, priced at $10 billion a year. Over the past decade, through the pressure of activists, the generic drug market has grown significantly in India. This has led to a dramatic drop in drug prices, especially for the cocktail for fighting HIV/AIDS. The availability of cheap Anti-Retroviral drugs, the main treatment for AIDS, has been extremely instrumental in treating around 8 million people in low- and middle-income countries across the world. While initial prices of the AIDS Anti-Retroviral cocktail stood at 10,000 USD per person per year, the generic version of the drug is available for a mere 150 USD per person per year, a dramatically lower price. As such, various non-governmental organizations such as Doctors without Borders, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have vouched to use these medications to treat AIDS patients in the developing world. Currently 80% of AIDS patients in the developing world are treated using generic drugs from India.

As negotiations continued for the FTA, a clause was included regarding intellectual property right enforcement for pharmaceutical products. The EU has heavily pushed this idea. Apparently, the document enforces very strict provisions for dealing with drug patents and states that in cases of infringement, the defendant’s property can be seized and his or her assets frozen. If enforced, this could destroy the generic drug industry in India, and so prevent over 8 million people from receiving treatment for this deadly illness. While the Indian government has said that it will not accept these provisions under any circumstances, the exact contents of the document have been withheld from the public and have only been slightly available through leaked sources on “Wikileaks.” The EU however, has continued to push for this point on its agenda. The question here then is first, how the largest union that claims to promote democracy and transparency is able to sign a document that its citizens have yet to see, while significant parts of the European population have acted out against such provisions? And how, is a country that claims to be the largest democracy on Earth signing such a document without looking at the implications it could have on its population?

It is clear that these negotiations will not remain secret forever as ratification processes in both states secure that the law-making bodies need to ratify these documents before they enter into force. However, it is surprising to see how far the EU is willing to push Intellectual property part of the legislation in terms of the pharmaceutical industry. The fact of the matter is that the Indian legislator will by no means pass the legislation as it stands now, due to the massive pharmaceutical industry that brings in over 10 billion USD per year. Nevertheless, the EU has held its ground in negotiations refusing to budge on these issues. The generic drugs have helped millions in India and across the world, and so over 2.5 million Indians took the streets last year to fight against these provisions. The conclusion of these negotiations however will remain secret until both parties have agreed and signed these documents on behalf of their people. The only beneficiary from including Intellectual Property Rights of pharmaceuticals in the FTA would be the private sector, the large pharmaceutical interests that have once again found ways of overriding the World Trade Organization and “third-world” interests, for the sake of making an extra buck. It has been evident on various accounts that money does indeed run the world, but how have we, as the public allowed for this to go so far. AIDS medication is vital for survival to so many across the world, and while 13 years ago we fought so hard to allow for these people to receive the treatment they deserved, 13 years later the financial interests surface once again. Now, we can only hope that for the sake of the benefits of the FTA, the EU backs down from its limitations on the Indian pharmaceutical companies, thus allowing more than 8 million people to continue receiving the medication that they need and deserve.


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