EU Free Trade Agreements With India And Canada Grind To A Halt

from the biting-off-more-than-you-can-chew dept

Techdirt has been covering the free trade agreement being negotiated between India and the EU for a while now — that is, as well as anyone can report on something that is being conducted behind closed doors. Despite or maybe even because of that secrecy, one issue in particular has raised concerns: that India’s crucial role as supplier of low-cost generics to the world’s poor might be under threat. Against that background, this report on the Live Mint site comes as something of a surprise:

European commissioner for health and consumer policy Antonio Borg on Friday said the proposed trade agreement with India won’t impose data exclusivity, patent extensions or linkages, in a bid to deflect criticism over the purported stance of the European Union.

Patient groups and other organizations have protested against the planned free trade agreement (FTA) between India and the EU on the grounds that it will lead to stricter patent laws, delaying the entry of generic drugs into the market and raising prices.

Of course, given the secrecy, we still don’t know what exactly the EU is now asking for, or what India is offering here. But what is significant is that the European Commissioner has tacitly acknowledged the impact of criticism from groups concerned about the supply of generics. That’s an important signal for the future, since it will doubtless encourage more groups to speak up. As to why this major concession is being made at this stage, another story in Live Mint gives us a clue:

India and European Union (EU) will hold a crucial meeting on the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) on Monday in Brussels to iron out the impediments in concluding of the bilateral pact.

The meeting which is also seen as a last ditch effort to resolve the differences before India gets into the election mode where the manoeuvring of decisions regarding the pact will become difficult.

Perhaps the EU has dropped its demands on strengthening drug patents in an attempt to conclude the deal quickly. But that second story was published on 14 April, and since then there has been no word of any breakthroughs in the talks, which suggests that there weren’t any. As the Live Mint article notes, that means that India is starting to enter “election mode”, when FTA negotiations will take a back seat as politicians concentrate their time and energy on local matters.

Meanwhile, signals are emerging that another major EU free trade deal, the one with Canada, is also going nowhere:

Talks to wrap up a multi-billion-dollar free trade deal between Canada and Europe have stalled, diplomats said, raising concerns the agreement could be put on hold as Brussels switches its attention to a much bigger pact with the United States.

As that notes, the problem here is the imminent TAFTA/TTIP negotiations, which are starting to occupy people’s attention in Europe. Clearly, there are just too many free trade agreements trying to do too much. Which one will be the next to fail?

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