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2 Nov, 2023 08:18

UK pressuring India to tighten IP laws to help big pharma – Bloomberg

British lawmakers and medics are now urging Prime Minister Sunak to scrap the demand, as it could harm the country’s own health system
UK pressuring India to tighten IP laws to help big pharma – Bloomberg

The British government’s push for tougher intellectual property (IP) laws under a potential free trade agreement with India could result in soaring medicine costs in Britain and globally, according to an open letter penned by UK lawmakers, academics and medics.

The group, which also includes charities, addressed its letter to government officials including UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, calling for the intellectual property demands to be scrapped, as they would threaten imports of cheap life-saving drugs.

Bloomberg has citedleaked documents from negotiations” showing that the UK government is demanding that India tighten its IP laws to provide longer medicine patent protection than global manufacturers currently receive in India, delaying the time that local companies can start making generic drugs (medicines containing the same components as a drug originally protected by a patent). The change would benefit large pharmaceutical manufacturers such as Astrazeneca, Glaxosmithkline and Sanofi, “which expect higher demand for their more expensive products”.

As India's pharmaceuticals industry is the world’s third largest by volume, according to the Indian government, and is often labeled the “world’s pharmacy,” such a move would not only harm domestic production and healthcare, but would create problems for the UK by raising costs for the National Health Service. It would also affect low-income countries where India’s cheap generic medicines are supplied either by New Delhi itself or through charity programs.

In the letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, more than 50 signatories including members of the opposition Labour Party expressed their “deep concern” over the impact the FTA would have on the price of medicines.

There are critical safeguards included in Indian patent laws which protect public health whilst complying with international IP rules,” the letter reads. The signatories argued that health systems around the world, including in low- and middle-income countries, rely on the availability of quality-assured, affordable generic medicines from India, while a quarter of medicines purchased by the UK NHS are generic versions from Indian companies.

The reason we’re buying these drugs from India is precisely because it has looser rules on intellectual property, and therefore can be in a position to have drugs up and ready and running by the time the patent expires in the UK,” the letter says.

Global Justice Now, a social justice organization, is challenging the UK government on its lack of “transparency” in trade negotiations, and wants it to make public details related to trade negotiations and its mandate in the talks. The latest hearing is due to take place on Friday at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Earlier, a report in The Financial Times said that India-UK trade talks have hit a hurdle, as London was seeking “better terms” in the area of goods and services. “A lack of progress in opening up Indian markets to British professional services, including law and accountancy firms,” is one of the reasons for the impasse, a person familiar with the matter told the newspaper.

Indian media had earlier reported that an agreement could be signed in October when Sunak was supposed to fly to India to attend a Cricket World Cup match. The deal has been in the works since 2021 and is seen as crucial for both countries. While India is keen to sign an agreement after its proposed pact with Canada fell apart amid a diplomatic row, the UK is still finding its footing in a post-Brexit world and new trading arrangements with India would be seen as a major step forward.