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Pro-health groups slam US for targeting India, other nations over IP rights

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on April 30, 2020 Published on April 30, 2020

Special 301 report seeks to block affordable medicines even in the middle of pandemic: Medicins Sans Frontieres

The Special 301 report released by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has been criticised by pro-health voices for targeting countries that had implemented public health safeguards in their intellectual property policy framework.

The USTR report rates trading partners on their performance in implementing intellectual property rights (IPR). And this year, too, the Special 301 report put India on its ‘Priority Watch List’ for the “lack of sufficient measurable improvements to its IP framework on long-standing and new challenges that have negatively affected US right holders over the past year.”

The long-standing IP challenges faced by US businesses in India included those which make it difficult for innovators to receive, maintain and enforce patents in India, particularly for pharmaceuticals, and ineffectual enforcement activities. In addition to this, the report said, India restricted “the transparency of information provided on state-issued pharmaceutical manufacturing licences, continues to apply restrictive patentability criteria to reject pharmaceutical patents, and still has not established an effective system for protecting against the unfair commercial use, as well as the unauthorised disclosure of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceuticals and certain agricultural chemical products.”

‘Unwarranted pressure’

Reacting to the USTR report, humanitarian organisation Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it put “unwarranted pressure” on countries such as India, Brazil, China, Chile, Malaysia and Canada for measures taken by them to ensure access to medicines.

“The Covid-19 pandemic brings to light how intellectual property and other exclusivities are an impediment to access treatment, diagnostics, and vaccines globally,” said MSF. “As a consequence, a growing number of countries — from Chile to Germany — have indicated that they are prepared to issue compulsory licences to overcome monopoly control over medical tools to address the pandemic.”

The Special 301 report is another strike to block more affordable generic versions of medicines and keep their prices high even in the middle of the pandemic, it added.

Leena Menghaney, MSF Access Campaign, said: “Medicines are meant to save lives, but what is the use of such medicines if they are unaffordable and inaccessible to millions of people even during a global health crisis? India, which has been on this watch list for years, is a major supplier of drugs across the globe, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. However, the US has been criticising the very same IP and medicines policies that ensure uninterrupted global supply of medicines to many low- and middle-income countries.”

Sharing Covid technologies

Instead of pressuring countries like India for making use of public health safeguards consistent with international trade and intellectual property rules, the US government should take this opportunity to increase global collaboration, mitigate the public health crisis looming humanity, and favour mandatory open sharing of Covid-19 technologies, she said.

Presently, in the absence of any global framework to ensure access to life-saving medical tools, it is imperative that countries promote flexibilities available under international trade rules to overcome barriers to Covid-19 treatments, diagnostics and vaccines, she added.

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Published on April 30, 2020
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