UK-India FTA at risk over drug patent dispute
Rishi Sunak will hold talks with Narendra Modi next month
THE trade deal between the UK and India is facing uncertainty due to disagreements over the former’s request for stricter regulations on the manufacturing of affordable generic medicines, reported The Telegraph.
India’s negotiators have opposed the proposal to extend drug patents before allowing the production of less expensive alternatives. This proposal aims to protect the interests of pharmaceutical giants against generic rivals.
Disputes related to drug patents, along with India’s push for increased visas for nurses and care workers, have cast a shadow over the prospects of an imminent announcement.
At the heart of the dispute over Indian drug patents is the thriving generic drug sector in India, in contrast to the pharmaceutical excellence of the UK. This contrast has led to the development of globally pioneering medications like Covid vaccines.
According to reports, a comprehensive agreement on a free-trade deal might not be reached before the year’s end. Prime minister Rishi Sunak is set to travel to India next month for talks with his counterpart Narendra Modi.
The UK is aiming to persuade India to accept what are known as TRIPS-plus arrangements, which provide longer patent protection for drugs than what is typically covered by the international agreements India has endorsed. This information was leaked from a draft of the free trade agreement.
An official from India’s commerce ministry stated that the Indian government staunchly opposes the demand for patent term extensions on drugs. The official claimed that it’s unlikely the UK will be able to include this demand in the final agreement.
They emphasised India’s commitment to ensuring accessibility to cost-effective medications, adding that terms in the trade agreement should not hinder the effective functioning of generic drug producers in the country.
Over 120 health and human rights groups and experts have written to trade secretary Kemi Badenoch, urging her to withdraw the proposals. They argue that these proposals could jeopardise the supply of generic medicines not only to low and middle-income countries but also globally.
Critics of the UK proposals warn of potential repercussions domestically. Approximately 80 per cent of NHS medicines are generics, with about a third originating from India, accounting for a quarter of unbranded medications.
Despite this, officials at Badenoch’s trade department dispute these claims. A spokesperson stated, “Medicines, the NHS, and their costs are not, and have never been, part of any trade negotiation. Our aim is to balance innovation and affordable medicine access – this principle remains unchanged.”
Ministers clarified that no special treatment will be provided for Indians under the government’s skilled worker immigration system.
Indian industry minister Piyush Goyal on Friday (25) said negotiations between India and the UK for the free trade agreement are progressing and both countries are committed to concluding the talks as early as possible.
“We are working hard, we are all committed to a fair, equitable, and balanced trade agreement, respecting each other’s sensitivities, respecting the different levels of developments that both the countries have and respecting the future potential that each country brings to the table,” Goyal said.
(with inputs from PTI)