Nations currently negotiating trade deals with the European Union (EU) have been warned that they must resist European demands which could threaten access to medicines in emerging and developing countries.

The EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which has been under discussion since 2007, is expected to be finalised within the next few months and will have major implications for access to medicines, not only in India but also in the many developing countries that rely on Indian-produced generics, says leading nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Health Action International (HAI). Also, the EU is holding a new round of negotiations in Paraguaythis week toward agreeing an Association Agreement with the Mercosur countries - Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela - aimed at creating a framework for cooperation.

There is "widespread concern" that health budgets and access to medicines throughout the Mercosur region will come under further strain as a result of this proposed Association Agreement, says HAI.

The NGO emphasises that India's resistance to the EU's "over-reaching" intellectual property (IP) demands will be "crucial" for the protection of health and development globally, and adds: "negotiations do not take place in a vacuum - both India and Mercosur must stand firm to halt the momentum of the EU's IP creep."

During the EU-India FTA negotiations, the European side has been calling on India to enforce a stricter IP regime that is provided by its national legislation and the World Trade Organisation (WTO)'s Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement. Specifically, the EU has said that India must adopt data exclusivity provisions, which would prolong the market monopoly period for brand-name drugs. But doing so would threaten India's position as the "pharmacy of the developing world," with a generics industry which is worth more than $20 billion and exports 50% of its production.

However, late last week, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told his country's negotiators not to take on any new obligations. Following a review of the negotiations by the Indian government’s Trade and Economic Relations Committee, at which "it was observed that concern has been raised by various quarters about the Indian stand" on IP issues, especially in the context of Indian pharmaceuticals, "the Prime Minister firmly directed that the Indian side shall not take on any obligation beyond TRIPs/domestic law," said a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

HAI accuses the EU of taking “a simplistic view of IP, based on its assumptions that the more stringent the IP protection the better. It fails to consider the adverse effects of high levels of IP protection on technology transfer, innovation, development and public health for emerging and developing countries," it says, and calls on Europe instead to "consider the broader context and effects of its IP demands, not only for public health but also for socioeconomic development."