India`s game plan on GATT: Will it work?

  • 14/04/1993

India`s game plan on GATT: Will it work? RESISTANCE to GATT secretary general Arthur Dunkel"s proposals is building up in India. But even as the government tries to pacify fears that it will give *in to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) - the all- encompassing global trade rules that are being negotiated - its game plan seems ambiguous and the indications are it will be forced to toe the line of developed countries.

Shortly after nearly 15,000 farmers gathered in Delhi (see page 5) to bum a copy of the Dunkel draft (DD) text, Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao assured Parliament the government would spare no effort to protect India"s interests. Nevertheless, several members of Parliament and envi- ronmentalists are dissatisfied.

Sharad Yadav, the Janata Dal (B)"s firebrand parliamentarian, exemplifies anti-Dunkel opinion when he the intellectual points they form the most crucial aspect of a "strategy of industrialised countries to deny nations like India access to technology, capacity for technological change, or acquisition of any competitive capacity."

In lay terms, intellectual property refers to the invention or formulation of a product, technology or design and rights to the reognition of the inventiveness. Developed, countries argue the neglect of IPRs by others - Third World countries in particular - has made their goods and services available without adequate compensation. Under Western pressure, Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) were made part of the GATT agenda in 1986 at Punta del Este, Uruguay.
Loss aF freedom Dinesh Abrol of Delhi"s National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, who is also joint convener of the National right (IPR) provisions in DD are the Working Group on Patent Laws, most damaging, especially because warns, "A uniform acceptance of the IPRs regime suggested by DD, would resulHn the total loss of freedom that is now allowed by India"s patent laws, to keep scientific research in line with the country"s developmental objectives and other social and economic interests."

While DD proposes that "patents will be available for any invention, product and process in all fields of technology", the existing Indian Patents Act (IPA), 1970, does not provide patent, protection for certain products. IPA grants patents only to processes used to make a product, provided they vary from the process used to make the original product. Before 1970, multinational corporations were free to use product patents to prevent Indian enterprises from producing their products. But, Abrol points out, after IPA was enacted, Indian pharmaceutical firms could make new medicinal drugs between three and five years of their introduction abroad.

In a related argument, Nirmal K Chandra of the Indian Ins ,titute of Management in Calcutta, notes the TRIPS scheme demands licensing of intellectual property in such stringent terms that patent-holders can prevent the use of even basic scientific knowledge to develop new or secondary technologies. If enforced, warns Abrol, the licensing provisions would hit several fast- growing, export-oriented industries, especially computer software because "any fresh soft- ware package needs some existing software".

However, the most dramatic protests in the country during the past prevent the use three months have been against DD"s proposals on IPRs for biological processes, plants and animals and biotechnology. These are the provisions that have become the target of protests by farmer organisations, such as technologies the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the Karnatak Rajya Ryota Sangha, who contend present Indian law does not recognisC intellectual property in any form of life - plant or animal.

DD allows protection of plant varieties "either by patents or any effective sui generis system" and environmentalist Vandana Shiva notes the latter requirement "semantically suggests that while various signatories to GATT would be allowed to have their need-specific IPR systems, its implication may actually be the opposite". According to her, the key word, is notes that the efficacy of an IPR system will be decided not by the country of origin but by the developed countries who dominate GATT. Indian agricultural experts warn sui generis systems in developed countries have strengthened rights in favour of plant breeders, not farmers. Most importantly, they prevent farmers from multiplying and selling seeds of new varieties.

There are other powerful sections of Indian industry and agriculture who feel DD"s provisions will facilitate growth and expand.economic activity. A prominent leader of this group is Maharashtra"s Sharad Joshi, who is actively mobilising pro-Dunkel opinion. Pro-Dunkel lobbies in industry include Associated Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Confederation of Indian Industry. FICCI president K R Poddar states that DD, despite certain shortcomings, represent a "good compromise formula". In the drug industry, the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India, which is dominated by multinationals, is strident in its demands that the Dunkel proposals be accepted.

Intellectual Property Rights: The Variuos Views

Indian government"s concerns with the Dunkel draft

Commerce ministry"s comments: What the critics say:
If the facility for process palents, currently enjoyedby Indian drug manufacturers, is taken away,prices of several medicines patented by MNCs will soar.  The magnitude of the price rise will depend on a  variety of factors. in any case, medicines Whose  product patents are held by MNCs account for only 10 per cent of 10101 drug soles in india

American MNCs own a high proportion of certain widely used drugs and formulations. US market share is: antibiotics, 42%; antibacterials, 98%; car-diovasculors, 51 %, and anti-Ieprosy drugs, 70%.

MNCs can claim they are "warking" palents in India by imparting the praducls from the productian cenn. This will resulr in the domestic market being served entirely by imparts

.

Negotiations are in progress to ensure that if a potent is not worked within the country, the patent- holder will hove to license production compulsorily to an indian associate.

Delails of negotiations are not available.
DO provisions require a minimum 20-year validity period for a patent. The Indian Patents Act limits thisto 7-14 years.

 There is international consensus on the 2O-year  period.

The Indian government must specify its sland.
A patent"s validity period can be increased manifold under DD provisions because they demand s