India urged to stand firm against RCEP drafts on medicine and investor rights to sue governments

Monday, March 18, 2019: Third World Network Researcher Prathibha Sivasubramanian has pointed out the strong policy clash between India and leaked chapters in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership over medicine patents and investor rights to sue governments (ISDS). She urged India’s government to stand by its policies.

“Free trade agreements like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will infringe on India’s intellectual property laws. India must stand its ground in the interest of public health”, she argued.

India’s stated position on intellectual property rights in free trade agreements, including the RCEP, is that it would not accept any legal obligation which requires changes to India’s intellectual property laws.

India has reportedly objected to most of the proposals that came from Japan and South Korea for longer monopoly patents on medicines that would delay the availability of cheaper generic medicines. One proposal is to extend the term of a patents beyond the current 20 years, another is to apply ISDS to changes in intellectual property laws, such as those relating to medicine patents. This would give foreign pharmaceutical companies the right to sue governments over laws on medicine patents.

From 1995, India accepted ISDS in 84 Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITS) and a series of Free Trade Agreements. But after being sued five times for billions of dollars, India withdrew from 58 BITs, created its own model BIT in 2015 and asked the remaining 26 BIT partners to agree to align with that.

Under these circumstances, the author argued that India’s reported willingness to negotiate investment protection provisions contrary to India’s model is baffling.