The comments were revealed in a submission last month by the
U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) to the U.S. Trade Representative
(USTR), which is reviewing global intellectual property laws for an
annual report identifying trade barriers to U.S. companies.
The USTR has placed India on its "priority watch" list for two years
in a row saying the country's patent laws unfairly favor local drug
makers. A bone of contention has been a legal provision that allows
the overriding of patents on original drugs and granting of
'compulsory licenses' to local firms to make cheaper copycat
India can grant such licenses under certain conditions, such as
public health emergencies, to ensure access to affordable medicines.
It granted the first such license in 2012, allowing local firm Natco
Ltd to sell a copy of German drugmaker Bayer's <BAYGn.DE> cancer
medicine Nexavar at a tenth of the price.
Since that ruling, big Western pharmaceutical companies have
criticized India's patent law and lobbied for it to be changed.
In its submission to the USTR, a copy of which was seen by Reuters,
the USIBC said the Indian government "privately reassured" the group
that it would not grant such licenses to firms for commercial
The Indian government has made no such statements publicly.
Officials have said they are committed to protecting the interests
Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, her joint secretary in charge
of pharmaceuticals, and the USIBC did not respond to requests for
Washington-based non-profit Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
expressed concern over the USIBC submission.
"If such an agreement in fact exists, this is extremely troubling
news ... this sort of pressure is basically a declaration of war on
poor cancer patients," KEI said in its own submission to the USTR
last week. It called for details of the agreement to be made public.
Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has been undertaking a
review of its intellectual property (IP) policy. A revised policy is
due to be released imminently.
Health activists have criticized the review, saying India is
buckling under U.S. pressure and compromising patients.
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The Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) charity, which largely depends on
India to supply antibiotics and drugs to combat HIV, hepatitis C and
tuberculosis for the developing world, called India's position "a
"India should take note that today globally patent monopolies are
considered as the core reason for the ever-upward spiral of drug
prices," said Leena Menghaney, the South Asia head of MSF's access
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Pharmaceutical Research and
Manufacturers of America, the biggest U.S. industry lobby group,
have both recommended keeping India on the U.S. "priority watch"
list in separate submissions to the USTR.
The Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, which represents 20 big drug
makers, argued in its own submission that India's patent laws were
fully WTO-compliant. Its head chided the USIBC for breaching
confidence in its submission.
"If the government of India had said something privately, USIBC
should not have embarrassed it by making it public," said Secretary
General D.G. Shah.
(Editing by Christopher Cushing and Kenneth Maxwell)
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