Kathmandu, 15 April 2013: Health and HIV groups from across Nepal have joined global protests against the trade policies of the European Union (EU) which are threatening access to medicines across the developing world. Over the past week, groups in Europe, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. have taken to the streets to protest the EU's trade policies.


In Brussels today, the Indian Commerce Minister will negotiate the EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Commission. If India is pressured into accepting the demands of the EU on intellectual property and investment, it will have an adverse impact on access to medicines in Nepal.


"We have repeatedly communicated with the European Commission Office in Nepal our concerns on the EU-India FTA negotiations. In Nepal we rely on Indian generic medicines not only for HIV but for cancer, hepatitis-C and many other diseases," said Sudhir Pakhrin, National Coordinator of National Network of People Living with HIV in Nepal (NAP+N). "But it seems that the European Commission is only interested in the profits of its multinational companies and not in the lives and health of ordinary Nepalese," he said. 


There are an estimated 50,000 people living with HIV in Nepal. The Nepal government is heavily reliant on Indian generic anti-retroviral medicines (ARVs) to sustain its HIV treatment programme. While most Nepali's living with HIV are on first line treatment, the need for second and third line treatment will grow in the coming years as will the need for treatment for hepatitis C.


With the majority of medicines being taken by PLHIV in Nepal coming from India, it is clear that any change in India's ability to manufacture generic medicines will have an immediate impact on lives and health in Nepal. On 1 April 2013, the Indian Supreme Court in a historic judgment has upheld India's strict patent laws that do not allow MNCs to patent new forms of existing medicines. With the majority of new medicines being tweaked versions of older medicines, this ruling will have a positive impact on generic production in India and consequently on access to medicines around the world.


"We have conveyed our congratulations to the Indian government on this important victory," said Sanjeev Rai from Union C, a Coalition of community groups woking on Hepatatis and harm reduction. "At the same time we have also raised our concerns on the EU-India FTA. If the EU gets its way in the FTA negotiations, it may wash away all the benefits of the Indian Supreme Court's judgment," he added.


HIV and health groups in Nepal and around the world are extremely concerned at finding several clauses in the latest leaked text of the negotiations showing EU demands that extend beyond the WTO requirements in the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). These so-called TRIPS-plus provisions include "enforcement" provisions that could allow MNCs to ask Indian courts to freeze bank accounts and seize property of generic producers and to draw third parties like treatment providers into patent disputes. Investment provisions demanded by the EU would allow MNCs to sue the Indian government for pro-health policies like strict patent criteria, medicine price control and tobacco controls laws and policies.


Despite these provisions, the EU envoy in Delhi told reporters on Friday that the FTA would not impact generic medicines and that the Indian generic industry was not concerned about the agreement.


Rejecting the statements of the EU envoy, Shiba Phurailatpam of Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV (APN+) stated, "the Indian generic industry, civil society and international groups such as Doctors without Borders, Oxfam, Health Action International, Stop AIDS Campaign UK have publicly stated that these provisions will hamper generic production. They will also pull treatment providers into litigation greatly impeding their emergency work. UNAIDS, UNDP and UNITAID have expressed grave concerns over these negotiations. The EC must stop misleading people, make the FTA text public and start acting in public interest instead of acting as the puppet of the MNC pharma industry." 


Nepal groups are also strongly protesting the EU's attempt to impose conditions on the Nepal government's request to postpone the WTO deadline for the application of intellectual property in Nepal. The 'LDC extention' application as it is referred to, was filed in November 2012. Under TRIPS, LDCs have an automatic right to such an extention once they put in an application for it. While developing countries, UNDP and UNAIDS have supported the application, the European Union is attempting to impose conditions on it. Nepal civil society has demanded immediate and unconditional support for Nepal's extention application from the European Union. 





The EU-India FTA: Since 2007 the EU has been in FTA negotiations with the Indian government. Repeated leaks of the negotiating text show that the EU is pressuring India to adopt intellectual property and investment provisions that will jeopardize generic medicines. Known as "TRIPS-PLUS" provisions these provisions go far beyond what is required by the WTO and are designed to prevent or seriously hamper generic production. The UN, UNITAID, Global Fund have all spoken out against such provisions but the EU refuses to listen. The FTA negotiations are in their final lap. On 15 April 2013, the Indian Commerce Minister will visit Brussels and the EU intends to pressure him to accept its demands. India must say no.


·         Read about India's role in supplying generic medicines to over 80% of adults living with HIV and over 90% of children living with HIV in the developing world.



·         Read the UN Special Rapportuer on the right to health's report on the negative impact of TRIPS-plus provisions and FTAs on access to medicines.



·         Read about the EU's harmful demands in the EU-India FTA: 



The LDC request and the EU's response


Under the WTO's TRIPS Agreement, Least Developed Countries or LDCs, the poorest and most vulnerable countries in the world have an automatic RIGHT to postpone the application of the TRIPS Agreement including the patent system in their countries, once they officially request such a postponement. In 2012, the LDCs submitted an official request to the WTO for an extension of the transition period, in view of their numerous constraints.


However while developing countries and NGOs have supported the LDCs' request, the US and EU have joined hands in creating obstacles for the LDCs in getting the extension.


·         Read about the hurdles created by the EU on the LDC proposal here:

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