Opinion

Policy flip-flops? No way

| Updated on: Jul 23, 2015

There has been no trade-off with the US on food security and IPR laws, says the commerce minister

In the article, ‘ Tripping up on sloppy policy flip-flops ’ (July 21), Rajrishi Singhal commented on the functioning of the government alleging that “its actions seem inconsistent”, characterised by “policy backtracking”. Since the author has made such sweeping judgments about the government, a rejoinder is in order to prove why his claims are terribly misplaced.

The author asserts that “one of the Modi government’s first foreign policy actions was to block the passage of the Trade Facilitation Agreement in WTO”. On this, let me reaffirm what I have already stated on various platforms: our intention has never been to “block” the TFA. But the fact of the matter is that there had been a marked difference between the pace at which work for trade facilitation was progressing and the slow pace at which preliminary work on food security and LDC-related issues was being carried out. Equitable progress on both the issues was in India’s interest. The hazy deadlines for completing the trade facilitation and the worrying date of January 2017 when the “peace clause” would no longer hold good (the “peace clause” prevents India and other such countries from being dragged into WTO courts for giving administered prices to its low income, resource-poor farmers) required that we ensure that the Bali agreement is worked as a package of various components, including public stockholding of foodgrains and not of just trade facilitation alone.

The understanding that India stood alone in the WTO on this issue is, again, faulty. There are several countries besides India — Zimbabwe, Ghana, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Saudi Arabia — that use administered prices. They did not speak openly about it due to obvious reasons. I know from interactions with several my counterparts that our stand resonated widely with various member nations because we were fighting for a just cause and the unanimous nature in which the November 2014 outcome came about proves the point.

Unacceptable charge Of all the presumptions the author has so liberally made, one that particularly stands out and needs to be condemned, is his inference that the government has possibly given away something to get support from the US on the issue of food security and that “India’s acquiescence on IPR laws might have been the sacrifice necessary to get its way in the WTO”. These are serious allegations that I completely reject.

The support from the US on this issue was primarily a result of the discussion that the Prime Minister had with the US President in September 2014.

At the WTO, we were able to achieve a breakthrough because we were negotiating from a position of unassailable strength of those vulnerable sections who have no voice. A just cause clearly articulated and backed by the strong leadership of our Prime Minister made for a compelling argument. This ensured that our concerns were heard, understood and addressed. I wish the author had gone back to my statement in Parliament where I have stated this on record: “…we have accomplished this without any concessions, compromise or new conditions” (statement in Rajya Sabha, November 28, 2014). Further, no agreement was signed at the India-US Trade Policy Forum meeting between the commerce and industry minister and the US trade representative.

The author’s presumption that India was capitulating to demands that its domestic patent rules be realigned with US laws from the Prime Minister’s statement that India’s IPR laws should be of global standards, is outlandish. Obviously the Prime Minister would state that our intellectual property rights should be at par with global standards. That doesn’t, however, in any way mean that they aren’t “now” or that we are realigning our IPR laws to comply with the laws of a particular country.

India’s laws on Intellectual Property Rights are fully compliant with international obligations under the TRIPS agreement. This includes the Patents Act, 2005, whose provisions have time and again stood the test of judicial scrutiny. Any dispute related to IPR laws, like other trade-related laws, are taken up in the WTO courts. No individual member country can unilaterally review the trade policy or IPR policy of another country. Therefore, when the US chooses to conduct an Out of Cycle Review of India’s IPR laws, it is a unilateral exercise, the outcome of which is not binding on any other member country, particularly India. It therefore requires no response from our side and it certainly does not affect India’s IPR laws at all. There is no question of permitting ‘evergreening’ of patents, or of realigning our IPR laws to comply with US laws. There is no question of sacrificing our IPR laws to get support from a particular country on food security.

We, however, do need to put in more efforts for the disposal of patent and other applications, and reduce the backlog. To achieve this, the process of recruitment of 459 patent examiners is under way and applications are being disposed of electronically.

Today, the strong leadership of the Prime Minister has injected a new vigour in the government’s policy operations. International negotiations have been, in particular, a key beneficiary of this vigour. After being successful in extracting a decision on public stock holdings from the WTO, we now look forward to working with all WTO members on the full implementation of the Doha Development Agenda to obtain the real development dividend for the poor and vulnerable in our country and around the world. It’s with such consistency, firm commitment and clear-headed leadership that this government is operating. The question of policy flip-flops doesn’t even arise.

The writer is Union minister of state for commerce and industry (independent charge)

Published on January 24, 2018

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