Ahead of new informal talks in New Delhi this month on the proposed India/European Union Free Trade Agreement (FTA), protestors have warned that that, if India concedes to EU demands on intellectual property (IP) rights, prices of Indian-made essential drugs could increase as much as 50 times.

They also point out that neither India’s parliament nor the public have yet been given an opportunity to contribute to the negotiations.

This month’s talks in New Delhi will precede the next (ninth) round of formal negotiations in Brussels in April, with the EU reportedly impatient to have the FTA agreed before the planned EU-India summit takes place in October. But, according to the international aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres, the EU is now seeking even higher standards of IP protection than those already agreed by India in 2005 when, under the terms of its adherence to the World Trade Organisation Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property rights (TRIPs) Agreement, it granted patents for the first time ever to new medicines. The EU’s new, tougher, requirements will enable companies to “maintain prohibitively high prices on medicines,” says MSF.

The EU’s current demands are reported to include amendments to Indian legislation to extend patent terms, plus data exclusivity requirements which will prevent Indian firms from registering their products in their home country.

India has both a moral duty and a legal right to refuse these demands, according to Dr Amit Sen Gupta of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, the Indian regional circle of the People’s Health Movement coalition, who has described the proposed FTA as “the latest step in a long attack by the US and the EU to shut down India’s generic industry.”

Moreover, as the source of 92% of the HIV/AIDS medicines used in developing countries today, India is the pharmacy of the developing world, and the impact therefore stretches far wider, adds MSF. If India gives in to the IP demands which have been accepted by other developing nations in recent FTAs signed with the EU or the US, access to treatment for HIV/AIDS and other illnesses will have been sacrificed, the group warns.

Patient activists also point out that, under the trade rules already signed by India, some newer HIV/AIDS medicines have been patented and are therefore unaffordable, yet lifelong treatment for people with HIV depends on continued access to newer therapies.

EU/Uganda counterfeit drug bill row

Meantime, Ugandan government officials have been criticized by patient groups for accepting funding from the EU for the drafting of the country’s proposed counterfeit goods legislation, which they say threatens access to generic medicines on which the national health system relies.

Similar to the anti-counterfeiting bill passed in Kenya in December 2008 and proposed East African Community legislation, Uganda’s Counterfeit Goods Bill makes no distinction between legal generics and counterfeit medicines, allowing generic versions of drugs patented anywhere in the world to be classed as counterfeit if the patent holder raises an objection. It also confuses IP rights with standards of quality and makes unknowing infringement of the law a criminal rather than a civil offence, say critics.