Civil society organisations have written a letter to the Union Minister for Commerce and Industry, Suresh Prabhu, voicing their discontent over the intellectual property (IP) provisions in the ongoing negotiations of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

RCEP Ministers will pore over the negotiations before the leaders’ summit in Singapore this week. “We fear that the governments of Japan and South Korea are trying to push towards a TRIPS-plus regime, which would expand and extend monopolies, leading to exorbitant prices of medicines. If they are successful and the proposed provisions are accepted, it will be a major setback for the public health safeguards existing under Indian patent laws,” the letter said.

The letter undersigned by the All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), Lawyers Collective, Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+) and the like said the provisions in RCEP referred to as Trade Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)-plus go way beyond India’s obligations under the World Trade Organization’s agreement on TRIPS and the flexibilities available under the agreement should be protected by the Centre.

The letter said while India is the pharmacy bowl of the world and supplies generic medicines to other developing countries, Japan and South Korea’s push for such a TRIPS-plus regime will restrict timely entry of generic medicines in the pharmaceutical supply and will keep branded medicines unaffordable to millions of patients across India and other developing countries.

For example, TRIPS-plus calls for extending patent term beyond the TRIPS mandated 20 years, thus delaying generic entry. It also calls for granting additional monopolies by prohibiting the drug regulatory authority from relying on clinical trial data to grant market approval to lower priced formulations of the life-saving medicines, even as the patents on the drugs have expired or do not exist. Also, there is an investor-state dispute settlement in TRIPS-plus which will be negotiated in RCEP. This will allow pharmaceutical corporations to sue governments like India for applying WTO’s TRIPS flexibilities to protect Right to Health.

The letter appealed for categorically rejecting such proposed provisions so that the final RCEP trade agreement is in line with India’s public health commitments.