India to Sue EU at WTO Over Generic Drugs?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 10/06/2009 12:56:00 PM
And so it may finally come to pass: India is now indicating that it will finally force the issue of the EU confiscating generic drugs while en route to Brazil. In neither India nor Brazil is the drug losartan, used for treating high blood pressure, under patent. However, it is in the EU. More specifically, tensions arose when transshipments from India to Brazil were confiscated in the Dutch port of Rotterdam at the behest of Big Pharma. Before moving on, here's a snippet from an earlier post:
On 15 January [2009] a [Dr. Reddy's Labs] shipment of the generic version of losartan was seized in transit in the Netherlands. This shipment, on its way to Brazil, was held by the customs authority at Rotterdam, which said it infringed the patent of the original drug—Cozaar. Losartan is not patented in India or Brazil. The patent for Cozaar in the Netherlands is held by DuPont, while US-based pharma multinational Merck and Co. holds the marketing rights.
The LDCs mentioned above still have until 2016 to comply fully under TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights); again, revisit the previous post. Unhappy with the EU seizures which it claims contravene WTO law, India is coming close to pursuing a Dispute Settlement Mechanism case. From the Economic Times:
India is likely to file an official case against the European Union asking the World Trade Organisation to bring EU customs regulations in line with internationally accepted norms as the government takes serious notes of two instances where drugs exported from the country to Nigeria and Brazil were seized in transit by Dutch authorities.

The consignments contained anti-HIV and anti-Malarial drugs that are off-patent in India, and were impounded early this year at Dutch ports after European companies holding patents for them moved the customs authorities alleging they were counterfeit. “It’s illegal as it not only violated the international intellectual property agreement (Trips), but was also against the GATT provisions on transit,” a[n Indian] commerce department official told ET requesting anonymity.

The official explained that GATT (now the WTO) had specific rules on goods in transit which ruled out such confiscations. Moreover, the drugs that were being exported were generic or off-patent in India and the country had every right to sell it to another country under the Trips regulations.

“India has decided to ask the WTO to set up a panel for settling this dispute. We want the EU to bring its customs regulations in line with international regulations. The panel is likely to be set up soon,” the official said. EU trade commissioner Catherine Ashton, who was in India last month, had assured commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma that the problem of confiscation would be addressed. However, she was not ready to spell out clearly how she planned to go about it and whether the customs regulations would be changed.

“We cannot work on verbal assurances. When consignments are confiscated, it brings disrepute and also leads to delays and losses. We cannot allow this to continue,” the official said.
Unless the EU spells out how it will better accommodate LDC interests, it's highly likely that we're headed for another WTO showdown. Once more, publicity will not be on the EU and Big Pharma's side as the time-tested "you're denying poor people of potentially life-saving medication" idea resonates quite strongly, even with avowed pro-globalization thinkers like Jagdish Bhagwati and Martin Wolf.