EU-India Free Trade Agreement: 'Don’t trade away our lives' say activists

EU-India Free Trade Agreement: 'Don’t trade away our lives' say activists

Dehli, India – On February 12, India and the European Union (EU) held their 12th joint summit here. Outside the summit, Indian HIV and access-to- medicine activists, farmers, dairy producers, small retailers, trade unionists and development, agriculture and health NGOs took part in a massive rally in the capital to protest against the EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that is being negotiated behind closed doors. At stake are several “life and death” matters including access to cheap medicines for Africa and other poor countries, livelihoods of Indian farmers and fisherpeople and impacts such a deal would have on the people living on land rich with the natural resources that the EU wishes to import from India.

Last Friday, the Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+), many of whom are HIV positive themselves, raised slogans and carried inflatable pills across Delhi to raise awareness that India could lose its status as the “pharmacy of the developing world” if it agrees to many of the EU’s demands on intellectual property protection and enforcement in the FTA. Thanks to the Indian generic drugs industry, the price of first-line anti-retroviral drugs in developing countries battling with AIDS has dropped down to $150 per person per year compared to $10,000 per person per year in 2000. Eighty percent of the HIV medicines used to treat 6.6 million people in developing countries comes from Indian generic drugs producers. And 90 percent of children’s HIV medicine that Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) uses comes from India. Cheap and good quality Indian drugs are used to treat other major diseases in developing countries as well, such as cancer and tuberculosis.

The EU’s demand for a term called “data exclusivity” in the EU-India FTA would literally force hundreds of Indian drug manufacturers out of business because it prohibits the use of test data by generic producers for drugs that have already proven to be effective. This can increase the amount of time a drug is under a patent by five to ten years. In addition, the EU’s IP “enforcement” provisions would allow European patent holders to prevent Indian drugs from reaching third party countries if they felt that the Indian generic company violated their own patents. This would be the case even if the European patent was not recognized in the third party country where the drugs were headed. In fact, this happened in 2008 when the European Union seized Indian generics headed through European ports to Latin America and Africa even though those developing countries did not recognize the patents.

The FTA would not only impact the right to health, but also the right to food of many millions of Indians who depend on fisheries for their livelihood and often their only source of protein. According to a study by Barria and Mathews for Focus on the Global South, the marine fisherfolk population of India is around 3.5 million people. If inland fisheries and acquaculture is included, the sector is said to include 36 million people. Through the FTA’s investment provision, the EU is seeking access for its large mechanized fishing fleets and trawlers and on-board processing units to India’s fishing grounds. Given that nearly half of India’s fishing fleet is non-motorized and over 70% of the marketing and traditional processing of fish is done by women fishworkers, the FTA is a real threat to their livelihoods, particularly since Indian fisheries are already experiencing declines in catch without major trawlers.

Yet not only coastal populations, but other food producers such as those involved in dairying stand to lose from “free trade” with the EU in agriculture. Women form the backbone of the dairy sector in India, with a total of 14 million dairy producers out of which 75% are small and marginal farmers. India once paid compensation to the WTO in exchange for “binding its tariff” (maximum duty level) up to 60%on skim milk powder after major losses to its dairy sector when it joined the WTO at zero percent duty on the product. Now, the EU wants India to cut over 90% of its agriculture and non-agriculture tariffs to zero or close to zero and a major area of export interest for the EU is of course, dairy. This spells trouble for small producers who will have to compete with cheaper dairy products made from imported skim milk powder from the EU. But small producers alone will not suffer.

If the EU has its way, Indian cheese producers will not be able to produce gouda, emmental or mozzarella because the EU wants special rights over the names of these cheeses through an IP right called “geographical indications,” meaning specific regions have exclusive rights to call certain products by a specific name. If the same cheese is produced elsewhere, it cannot be called by the same “geographical” name as an “original” European cheese.

IATP took part in the Right to Food Impact Assessment of the EU-India FTA in April last year—the final report was presented by the authors in Brussels and Geneva in November. In the run up to the rally, I participated in a two day conference held in Delhi, 8-9 February, to highlight the impact the FTA provisions on investment will have on the land rights of some of the most marginalized populations in India. The EU seeks to import mineral resources such as bauxite from India with greater ease with much more investor rights and protection through an investor-to-state mechanism for arbitration in case conflict arises. Meanwhile, India is in the process of revising its land acquisition law that originates in the 1800s during British Rule. The FTA could have a “chilling” effect on the reform process and could add to land-related conflicts if local communities are further marginalized and displaced off their lands either due to increased foreign investment that requires natural resources and land; or even through government pressure to make land more readily available and hence India more attractive to those investors regardless of the costs to peoples’ rights and livelihoods..

Prior to the EU-India Summit, there were rumors that the two parties may make a major announcement regarding parts of the FTA that had been successfully concluded. However, neither government made such remarks following the summit. The next projected deadline of the controversial FTA has been set for the end of 2012.