Dutch minister promises a re-look at drug seizures on patent issues

11 Feb 2009


The Netherlands ysterday assured New Delhi that it would sort out the issue of frequent seizure of generic drugs produced in India by European countries on the pretext of patent protection. At least five such cases are known to have occurred over the past four months.

Dutch foreign trade minister Frank Heemskerk, who is on a weeklong visit to India, said patent protection should not be used as an excuse for hampering the distribution of generic drugs among the poor people across the globe. Heemskerk is heading a 40-member Dutch business delegation to India which will visit Delhi, Mumbai and Pune.

Recently European authorities had confiscated a shipload of Indian medicines on the way to Brazil and Columbia on the charges of patent infringement, evoking sharp reactions from India and Brazil. Consequently, the Dutch government has asked the European Commission (EU) for a review of the EU Customs regulations.

The contentious issue arose because pharmaceutical major Merck Dupont claimed that the medicine, Losartan, was being imported by Dr. Reddy's Laboratories despite Merck having a patent on it.

"It was some technical issue, there were some EU regulations and we should sort out this because the Netherlands is very important transit hub (for drugs) and there should be no unclarity between EU regulations and Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights," Heemskerk said. He also assured that it would worked towards sorting out the issue.

The issue came up during the meeting between commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath and Heemskerk. "I have raised our concern on the seizure of pharmaceutical consignment in the Netherlands and he has assured me that his government will look into the matter expeditiously," Nath said.

India and Brazil criticised the incident heavily at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) last week stating that the incident showed that the developed countries were circumventing global trade rules and trying to force their own tough intellectual property rules on developing countries.

While the Netherlands is on the backfoot on the issue of seizure of drugs as the move is seen as going against the international TRIPS agreement, India, which recently placed a six-month ban on import of toys from China, maintained that its decision was consistent with WTO rules and it had taken the decision on health grounds. (See: China may go to WTO on toy import ban by India)

Addressing a press conference yesterday, commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath said it was open to any discussions with China on the matter. ''Till the government is satisfied, the ban will not be lifted,'' the minister said.

The agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, is a global agreement to establish minimum norms on intellectual property (IP) in the countries that are members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), while ensuring that these norms or related measures themselves do not become barriers to free trade.

TRIPS allow developing countries to source generic drugs from third countries (non-patent holding countries) on the ground of public health.

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