One of the many problems with the secretive nature of trade agreements is that it insulates negotiators from the real-world consequences of their actions. That's particularly true for the FTA talks between the EU and India, currently taking place behind closed doors. One of the key issues for the EU side is India's role as a supplier of generic medicines to the world, and India's tough stance on issues like the evergreening of pharma patents. From the various leaks that we have, it seems that the EU is demanding that India toe the line on drug patents, and cut back its supply of low-cost generics to emerging countries.
That might seem a reasonable request, since there is no doubt that India's production of generics reduces the profits of the pharma companies in Europe, which could charge far higher prices were there no competition from generics. But what that overlooks -- and what secret negotiations allow those involved to overlook -- is the impact such a move would have on millions of people around the world.
A letter from a group of Cambodian activists that struggle to supply much-needed medicines to those too poor to buy them, published on the infojustice.org site, provides us with a rare insight into what the EU's demands would mean for the world's poor:
We are saddened that behind the rhetoric of democracy, human rights and freedom the EU is in fact prioritising corporate interests to the lives of millions of people. It is needless to say that those affordable generic drugs are absolutely vital for the lives of millions who otherwise cannot afford expensive treatment of life threatening diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV-AIDS. Many suffering from such serious diseases would not be able to survive without these generic drugs produced in India.
It's hard to believe the EU negotiators personally wish to kill thousands of the poor; but the secretive nature of the talks means that they can close their eyes to the fact that if they succeed in forcing India to cut back its production of generics, large numbers of people will certainly die as a direct result. That's another reason why these kind of talks must be held openly: not just so that we know what is happening and can give our input, but also so that those conducting the talks realize that what they are doing is not some abstract game, but a matter of life and death for millions around the world.
Having seen the importance of made-in-India generic drugs for the lives of millions, we in no ways can express our frustration about the attempt of EU and European pharmaceutical giants to control the production of these cheap medicines. This must stop right now. It is a true example of putting profits before people's lives and take advantage of people's illness for corporate profits. Our lives should not be regarded as a business opportunity. We urge the EU to reconsider its pursuit of intellectual property rights for medicines and to realise that blindly protecting the interests of large European pharmaceutical corporations will lead to nothing but a subtle form of genocide of the poor, their families and children in developing countries across the world.
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