India, Brazil challenge EU at WTO over drugs

India, Brazil challenge EU at WTO over drugs

The request for consultations, the first step in a formal World Trade Organisation dispute, ratchets up the pressure in a row pitting the intellectual property rights of pharmaceuticals corporations against access to affordable medicine for people in poor countries.

Reuters reported in October last year that frustration over seizures of generics drugs by European customs officials was prompting India and Brazil to mount a legal challenge at the WTO.  But EU officials, who argue that their checks aim to identify counterfeit medicine rather than stopping people in developing countries from getting treatment, had been hoping to negotiate a way out of the dispute. EU officials say they have no interest in halting the manufacture of generic drugs in developing countries or their legitimate export.

The case dates back to the seizure by Dutch customs in December 2008 of a blood pressure drug en route from India to Brazil.

A letter to the EU’s WTO mission from India’s WTO ambassador, Ujal Singh Bhatia, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, said Dutch customs had seized at least 19 consignments of generic drugs in 2008 and 2009, of which 16 originated in the Netherlands. “India considers further that the measures at issue also have a serious adverse impact on the ability of developing and least-developed country members of the World Trade Organisation to protect public health and to provide access to medicines for all,” he said.

The row comes as the EU and India aim to agree a free trade pact this year. Brussels has also relaunched talks on a trade deal with the Latin American bloc Mercosur dominated by Brazil.

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