India’s proposed free trade agreement with EFTA — a bloc comprising Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein — has hit a rough patch, with the group of four insisting on stringent commitments in intellectual property rights without ceding ground in the matter of liberalising visas for professionals.

“In the latest round of negotiations in New Delhi last week, both sides did not budge from their demands on IPR and services and there was not much movement in these two areas,” a government official told BusinessLine .

India and EFTA (European Free Trade Association) started negotiating a free trade pact in October 2008, shortly after India started FTA talks with the European Union.

The four EFTA countries are not part of the European Union. The talks resumed in Geneva last year after a gap of three years. Indian negotiators said the EFTA countries, especially Switzerland, were very aggressive on IPR.

“They are not satisfied with India being compliant with the provision of the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Agreement on intellectual property and want India to go beyond. That is very difficult for India,” the official said.

Patent battle

A number of Swiss pharmaceutical multinational companies, including Novartis and Roche, have been aggressively fighting for their patent rights in India over the past few years. In fact, Novartis had dragged the Indian government to court to seek more extensive patent protection in the country than granted by India’s patent laws.

The Court ruled against the company and upheld the clause known as Section 3(d), which prevents pharmaceutical companies from seeking patent protection on medicines that are cosmetically different from their older versions on which patents have expired.

“One of the primary demands of EFTA countries is that India should drop Section 3(d). But India has to protect its generic companies, which supply cheap medicines to the poor not only in India but other regions, too, including Africa and Latin America. India can’t afford to agree to provisions that could lead to ever-greening of patents,” the official said.

Seeking more visas

The other areas covered by the proposed FTA include market access in goods, services, investments and public procurement.

“In services, India’s interest is in procuring more visas for its professionals and signing of mutual recognition agreements between professional bodies for easier movement of workers.

“But the EFTA countries are not eager to move in this area,” the official said.

In goods, both sides are willing to offer substantial market access, but India wants to move ahead only after getting something substantial in services.

“India is a big market that the EFTA countries could benefit from if import duties are lowered. We are hopeful that in the next negotiating round, the bloc would make a better offer in services,” the official said.

The trade gap is heavily in favour of the EFTA countries, with total two-way trade at $19 billion in 2016-17 and India’s exports at less than $2 billion.