Last week’s pledge by the European Union (EU) to stop seizures of Indian-made generics at European ports has been rendered meaningless by the anti-counterfeiting deal expected to be signed shortly by 37 nations plus the EU, say critics.

Late last week, the EU said it would amend its customs regulations in order to stop Indian-made generics bound for developing nations being confiscated while they are in transit in European ports. The seizures, which were the subject of a complaint brought by India against the EU at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), had also threatened to derail the controversial India/EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which is due to be signed in December.

Indian government spokesman said that, as a result of the EU trade negotiators’ assurances over the confiscations, the complaint lodged at the WTO would now be withdrawn.

However, there were angry scenes last Thursday outside India’s Ministry of Commerce in New Delhi, as negotiators gathered there for the latest round of FTA negotiations, and a number of activists were arrested. These included lawyer Leena Menghaney, who works in India for the international medical humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) which, on the day the FTA talks resumed, launched a three-month campaign to “stop Europe’s multiple attempts to restrict access to these medicines for patients across the developing world.”

MSF buys 80% of its HIV/AIDS medicines from India and, on behalf of the 160,000 people worldwide that they keep alive, “we cannot remain silent as Europe works to close the door on every aspect of drug supply - the production of a generic medicine, its registration and its transportation to patients in other parts of the world,” said Dr Unni Karunakara, president of MSF’s International Council.

Production of generics is being threatened not only by the Indian FTA but also by other trade deals currently being negotiated by the EU around the world, as these are  “demanding tougher intellectual property provisions than anything required under international law,” says MSF.  “Europe is also a driving force in the secret negotiations for an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), where it is leading the push for measures that would put limits on the generic production of medicines,” the group adds.

On October 2 the final round of negotiations for the ACTA was concluded in Tokyo and a few days later the text was made public. Its conclusions were welcomed by the US Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, who said they reflect “tremendous progress” against the “global crime wave” of counterfeiting and piracy.

“The ACTA negotiations aim to establish a state-of-the-art international framework that provides a model for effectively combating global proliferation of commercial-scale counterfeiting and piracy in the 21st century. The agreement will include innovative provisions to deepen international cooperation and to promote strong enforcement practices,” said a statement from Ambassador Kirk’s office.

But critics claim that the deal will permit the seizure of drugs made in India - which will not be a member of ACTA -  while they are in transit through the signatory countries. “ACTA goes beyond being a multilateral trade agreement and is seeking to formalise what the EU tried to do through the FTA with support of non-European countries,” said D G Shah, secretary general of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA), according to a report in the Economic Times of India, which also quotes industry spokesman as estimating that ACTA could impact medicine exports worth 420 billion rupees every year.