Pressure is mounting on the UK government to reconsider its position on intellectual property rights in ongoing free trade talks with India.
Academics, parliamentarians, healthcare professionals, and charitable organisations have sent a letter to Rishi Sunak’s administration. The letter argues that the current UK stance could jeopardise access to affordable, essential medications.
The communication comes on the heels of leaked documents revealing the UK’s interest in extending patent protections for pharmaceuticals beyond what India currently maintains. This is a move apparently supported by significant figures in the UK pharmaceutical sector.
Those opposing this position have conveyed to the government that the National Health Service (NHS) could see rising costs as a result. The NHS often relies on ‘copycat’ medicines, versions of drugs no longer patented in India due to shorter protection periods.
The letter is addressed to both Prime Minister Sunak and Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch. Among those who have endorsed it are charities like Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières, in addition to Labour MPs Richard Burgon and Kim Johnson.
Earlier this year, the Telegraph disclosed that Indian negotiators had turned down the UK’s call for more stringent intellectual property regulations on generic medicines.
“Britain wants India to accept so-called TRIPS-plus arrangements, which offer longer patent protection for drugs than normally applies under the international agreements to which India has signed up, according to a leaked draft of the free trade agreement,” the newspaper stated.
An Indian official closely involved in the discussions informed the Telegraph that it was improbable the UK would see this particular request included in any final agreement.
Trade talks between the UK and India were initiated on 17 January 2022. Both nations appear eager to finalise the deal ahead of anticipated national elections in the coming year.
However, a comprehensive agreement by the close of 2023 seems unlikely. Instead, partial agreements could be announced, according to Telegraph reports.
Further complications in the trade discussions include India’s request for more visas for skilled IT and healthcare professionals, as well as regulations concerning the origin of UK automotive exports.
Ahead of the G20 summit in Delhi this past September, Sunak told the media, including Sky News, that a swift deal with India was “not a given” and he would not impose an “artificial deadline” on the negotiations.