EU-India summit triggers NGO fears anew

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and Minister Manmohan Singh arrive at the venue for the EU-India summit. Photo by: The Council of the European Union

Nongovernmental organizations are on their toes once again as the 12th EU-India summit commences on Friday (Feb. 10), with rumors of possible last minute “trade-offs” on the loom.

The 12th EU-India summit on economic, regional and global issues will tackle several key considerations on science and technology, climate change and energy, and the controversial free trade agreement on its agenda. The summit will be attended by European Council President Herman van Rompuy, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, among others.

EU Ambassador to India Joao Cravinho said the European Union and India have been negotiating intensely for weeks regarding the “long-delayed” free trade pact, “working on the nature of tradeoffs needed to reach a political agreement.” Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, meanwhile, said talks were in the “final stage,” with a “few gaps” remaining, France 24 reports.

Talks of an FTA between the European Union and India have been going on for years. While the agreement, if it pushes through, will result in the removal of import duties on more than 90 percent of total tariff lines, the Indian government has repeatedly rejected the EU’s proposal to introduce any of the intellectual property rules under the FTA, Oxfam India CEO Nisha Agrawal said.

Oxfam has repeatedly called for the European Union not to hamper the developing world’s access to high-quality but affordable medicines through its trade agreements. The NGO fears that, if the 27-bloc nation succeeds in getting India to sign the deal, the price of “lifesaving treatment” would increase drastically, and, therefore, affect health intervention efforts.

International humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières shared the same sentiment. In an open letter addressed to Singh, MSF International President Unni Karunakara urged the Indian government to “stand strong” in the summit and in future FTAs against the introduction of “data exclusivity.” She also urged India to take a similar stand against other provisions in the proposed intellectual property and investment chapters thought to be “harmful” for the developing world. This includes some enforcement measures contained in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement — another controversial trade agreement NGOs claim threatens generic medicines — that MSF said the European Commission had reproduced in the current agreement.

India is often dubbed as the “pharmacy of the developing world,” producing more than two thirds of all generic medicines. Generic competition in India has led to prices of anti-retroviral medicines to fall to less than $100 from $10,000 per patient per year. Oxfam said 80 percent of HIV medicines the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria purchases are produced in India.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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