India’s average applied import tariffs have increased to 13 per cent in 2014-15 from 12 per cent four years ago, largely due to a 3 per cent rise in duties for agriculture products such as cereals, oilseeds, fats, sugars and confectionary, says India’s latest trade policy review by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The review, circulated on Tuesday, is mildly critical of India for not reducing its peak customs duty (duties markedly higher than the average applied rates) for non-agriculture products since 2007-08.

“For several years the peak rate of tariff for non-agricultural products has been maintained at 10 per cent, with successive Budgets declaring the intention to reduce peak rates,” it says.

The review is a periodic surveillance of national trade policies by the WTO Secretariat of member countries.

India’s last review was carried out in 2010-11. In the past four years, the average tariff on agriculture products rose to 36.4 per cent from 33.2 per cent, while tariff on non-agriculture items rose to 9.5 per cent from 8.9 per cent.

Interestingly, the latest review has not explicitly faulted India’s patent regime, but refers at length to the rejection of drug major Novartis’ patent claim for its Hepatitis C drug and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of Section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act to uphold the decision of the patent office.

“It would appear that the recent rejection of one of the patent applications filed in India on a breakthrough innovative product to treat Hepatitis C, a disease that is widely prevalent in India, was on the grounds that, while the claims may be both novel and inventive, they do not prove significant enhancement of ‘therapeutic’ efficacy and hence are not in line with of Section 3(d) of the Indian patent law,” it said.

Patent pressure

Several developed country members, including the US and the EU, want India to drop Section 3(d) of the patents law that does not allow patents for incremental developments in a drug that does not make a marked improvement in its effectiveness. On trade secrets and test data protection, the review pointed out that there is no specific legislation protecting test data submitted for obtaining regulatory approval of pharmaceuticals.

There is no clarity on how India protects this data from unfair commercial use, it added.