New Parliament Group Monitors EU Trade Pacts’ Impact On Poor’s Medicines Access 28/01/2010 by David Cronin for Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)BRUSSELS – Trade agreements must not contain clauses on intellectual property rights that could imperil the poor’s access to affordable medicines, a veteran member of the European Parliament (MEP) has said. David Martin, a Scottish Labour Party MEP since 1984, expressed concern about the planned free trade agreement currently under negotiation between the European Union and India. Leaked drafts of the accord favoured by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, include far-reaching provisions on intellectual property. These include a “data exclusivity” requirement, whereby major pharmaceutical companies would be able to block India’s generic medicines industry from using the formulae with which new drugs are developed for a period of several years. Because India is a leading exporter of low-priced generic medicines to other developing countries, such provisions could have repercussions far beyond the country, according to Martin. “This is not just bad news for India,” he said. “It is bad news for those countries to which generic medicines from India are provided.” Martin is the chairman of the Parliament’s working group on innovation, access to medicines and poverty-related diseases, which was launched in Brussels on 27 January. This cross-party alliance will monitor the extent of EU funding for the treatment of diseases that primarily affect the world’s poor, as well as issues relating to the patenting of medicines. One priority of the group will be to address seizures of generic medicines by customs authorities. During 2008 and last year there were several incidents in the Netherlands during which the transport of medicine was halted by customs officers, reportedly following requests by pharmaceutical companies suspecting that patents may have been infringed. “This was arguably an attempt to disrupt the generic medicine trade,” said Martin, who insisted that the consignments involved comprised “perfectly legitimate” drugs. The humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) will organise the new working group’s activities. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, director of the MSF campaign on access to medicines, said the working group will seek to provide a counterbalance to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry over the Brussels institutions. This influence is particularly pronounced in the EU’s trade talks with India, he added, voicing fears that the introduction of stricter patenting rules in India would make the generic medicines that MSF uses in its emergency relief programmes more expensive. “India is the pharmacy of the developing world,” he said. “For the pharmaceutical industry India is one of the emerging markets that it would like to capture. But we see the wider impact [of measures affecting India’s medical exporters] across the entire developing world.” Initiated in 2007, the EU-India talks have so far yielded no concrete results. Yet both sides vowed to keep pursuing the talks when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met top-level EU representatives in November last year, with Singh signalling that a formal agreement may be concluded during 2010. A European Commission spokeswoman said she was unable to comment on the criticisms of its trade policy. Jon Pender, a director of government affairs with the pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline, said that “we need to get the balance right” between protecting intellectual property and ensuring access to affordable medicines in developing countries. While he contended that patents “play an important role” in providing an incentive for the innovation of new treatments, he said that his company was “very open” to explore alternative approaches to regulating medical innovation. He also described the seizures of generic medicines as “very unfortunate” and denied that the pharmaceutical industry had persuaded customs authorities to clamp down on generics by equating them with counterfeit medicines. “We are very clear that we want to avoid the confusion between generic medicines and counterfeit medicines,” he said. “We don’t want people to get the impression that industry is trying to muddy the waters.” Paul Thorn, a campaigner on patients’ rights who has been HIV positive for over 20 years, described the influence of pharmaceutical lobbyists over the EU institutions as “a bit perverse.” With enough public pressure, however, decision-makers could be convinced to put greater emphasis on the health interests of ordinary people than on the profits of drug companies. “Eventually, things will change,” he said. “We just have to keep plugging away at it.” Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related David Cronin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org."New Parliament Group Monitors EU Trade Pacts’ Impact On Poor’s Medicines Access" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.