[Ip-health] Governance Now coverage on Modi's trip to Switzerland and the US

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Jun 7 22:40:19 PDT 2016


Modi’s Swiss sojourn

Reviews ties, negotiates for a 'yes' on inclusion into NSG, and broaches
black money issue

Shreerupa Mitra-Jha | June 7, 2016 | Geneva


Trade freely

The Swiss support for NSG may have quite a bit to do with the Modi
government’s willingness to re-open dialogue on a trade deal between the
EFTA states comprising Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, and
India that has been stuck since 2008.

“India has affirmed it's readiness to resume FTA talks with EFTA,” Modi
said in a statement.

Intellectual property (IP) issues has been the main sticking point in the

In May 2015, Schneider-Ammann, in his capacity as the minister of the
economy, visited India with the intent of pushing forward the free-trade
negotiations. However, IP issues, especially with regard to patents held by
Swiss pharmaceutical companies, continued to play a spoiler in the

At an event organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and
Industry, Ammann told industry leaders “without an assurance of a strong IP
law, companies would not have the incentive to innovate and invest in

Swiss pharmaceutical companies have burnt their fingers in India, with
courts ruling in favour of making cheap, affordable, generic-versions of
medicines for the poor. India makes use of the Trade-related Intellectual
Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities at the World Trade Organisation—
through “compulsory licensing”, for example-- and its own national patent
act – for instance, through section 3 (d)—eating into the profits of the
powerful pharmaceutical lobby.

The Swiss pharma firm Novartis lost a seven-year battle in 2013 to protect
the patent of its cancer drug Glivec in India’s supreme court. There have
been other such instances as well where the pharmaceutical companies have
been seething at judicial decisions in India. However, there has been a
softening of such stances in recent times. In January 2015, Cipla lost a
case against Novartis in the Delhi high court and was stopped from making
or selling a cheaper copy of the Novartis’ respiratory drug Onbrez, citing
infringement of patent rights.

Modi along with his high-level delegation had an economic round table with
top Swiss business heads numbering about 20 or so, which lasted for around
an hour. Among them were representatives from the Swiss watch-making
industry and pharmaceutical companies, like Novartis. Modi invited them to
India, telling them that he wants to create mini Switzerlands in India and
also spoke of creating a skilled global workforce with its 500 million plus

Scneider-Ammann announced that he will dispatch a high-level negotiating
team led by Marie‐Gabrielle Ineichen‐Fleisch, head of the World Trade
Division at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), to re-launch
the EFTA trade talks, end of this week.

In 2015, exports to India increased by 6.6 percent compared to last year,
while imports fell by around 10 percent. Switzerland is one of the 10
largest investors in India.

Ammann, talking to a few journalists after the Indian PM left, said that
the levels of ambition for Swiss companies are the same as they were in
2013 —these are issues that will be discussed by the Swiss negotiating team
when in India. But since India now has a new national patent policy, things
look more optimistic for a trade deal coming through.

The Indian government constituted a think tank on IPR that helped draft the
national IPR policy in May this year. The think tank has also recommended
the creation of specialised courts to resolve IPR disputes, as well as
training of judges on the matter. The new IPR policy has been frowned upon
by some as a softening of India’s stance on IP matters, especially its
potential impact on access to medicines for the poor.

In April 2015, Ineichen-Fleisch, the chief negotiator for the upcoming
trade talks, had said that the Swiss pharmaceutical sector was unhappy with
India using TRIPS flexibilities.

But it is not just the Swiss companies but also the American pharmaceutical
lobby pressuring Modi to toughen its stance on IPR. A recent US Trade
Representative’s report called ‘Special 301’ has again put India on its
“priority list” for its IP laws. Health activists and NGOs have launched a
protest outside the White House in conjunction with mobile billboards that
will circle the District of Columbia during the prime minister's ongoing

“Millions of families across the globe rely on the low-cost of Indian
generic drugs and would be at risk of having their lifelines cut if
pharmaceutical lobbying groups influence Prime Minister Modi and change
India's intellectual property (IP) policies to favour pharmaceutical
monopolies,” said a group of international medical humanitarian
organisations in a press statement.

Public Citizen, an NGO, will urge India -- often referred to as the
"pharmacy of the developing world" --to defy pressure from US lawmakers and
pharmaceutical industry representatives and protect access to affordable

Notwithstanding the Swiss optimism on the potential trade deal, global
health activists will be closely watching India’s stance on IP issues, and
hence, presumably, it will not be as smooth a ride if the high ambitions of
the Swiss businessmen remain untempered.

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