EU-India free trade deal puts millions of lives at risk

by Leïla Bodeux, Policy Advisor in Essential Services at Oxfam-in-Belgium

As the mid-April deadline to conclude negotiations for the EU-India free trade agreement approaches, members of the European Parliament and civil society groups from across Europe mobilised in Brussels today to demand that the European Commission withdraw provisions that will harm people’s access to medicines in India and across the developing world.

Dressed as zombies, dozens of activists from organisations including Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Stop AIDS Campaign, Health Action International (HAI) Europe and Act-Up Paris protested outside the European Parliament alongside concerned MEPs, dancing to the Michael Jackson classic, ‘Thriller’, to remind us that the harmful intellectual property provisions that the European Union is pushing never die.

India, being the source for more than 80 percent of the HIV medicines used in developing countries, for example, is known as ‘the pharmacy of the developing world’, and there is growing concern that the intellectual property provisions and investment chapter which the European Commission is pressuring India to accept will block the export of generic medicines and choke off a vital lifeline for millions of people.

The provisions could also draw in third parties, including suppliers of active pharmaceutical ingredients used to produce generic medicines and treatment providers, potentially subjecting them to heavy fines. Other measures could see the Indian government secretly sued by multinational companies for billions of dollars if national laws, court decisions or other actions interfere with their investments – for example, if the patent office rejects or overrides a patent on a medicine to increase access, as in the Novartis case.

Among those participating in today’s protest was Carl Schlyter, a Swedish MEP for the Green Party, who urged his fellow parliamentarians not to accept provisions that could put millions of lives at risk. “This attack on the health of the world’s poorest is seriously concerning, particularly as a deadline to sign the agreement draws ever nearer and could be days away”, said Schlyter. “The EC cannot claim it supports access to medicines and is concerned about the lives of people in developing countries, and in the same breath be pushing harsh provisions around intellectual property enforcement on India.”

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