Column: Allies at odds

Sep 26 2013, 04:31 IST
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SummaryIndia wants cheaper drugs and its law is WTO-compliant—if US challenges that, the strategic alliance gets hurt

After decades of ambivalence, bilateral economic relations between India and the US moved to a distinctly higher plane in the new millennium, after the leaders of the two largest democracies took steps to iron out their differences. Contributing to the bonhomie was the agreement on the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP), inked in July 2005 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush. The US State Department called the initiative an “important milestone in the transformation of the relationship between the United States and India”.

The conclusion of the nuclear deal took India-US relations several notches higher, the annual US-India Strategic Dialogue initiated in 2009 stands testimony to this fact. The key feature of the dialogue, the fourth edition of which was held in June, is that in addition to issues relating to security, it includes several areas which figure prominently in India’s development priorities such as education, health and agriculture. In the health sector, for instance, the two countries have agreed to cooperate on a wide range of programmes focused on non-communicable diseases, infectious diseases, strengthening health systems and services, and maternal and child health, which are some of the most formidable challenges facing India.

However, this spirit of cooperation introduced by the Strategic Dialogue is almost completely upstaged by the actions that the US Administration has been taking with monotonous regularity, often in conjunction with powerful commercial interests, challenging the core of India’s development priorities. Ironically, some of the areas in which India has been subjected to intense pressure are the ones that figure in the agenda for Strategic Dialogue.

In recent years, India has taken a series of steps to implement the patent laws in a manner that supports availability of medicines at affordable prices. This has been made possible through the inclusion of several instruments in the country’s patents Act that can be used to counter the excessive use of patent monopolies in key sectors like pharmaceuticals. These instruments were introduced through three amendments that helped make the Indian patents Act consistent with the provisions of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Thus, India’s patent laws allow the grant of compulsory licence to any domestic firm to produce a patented product, if the patent owner refuses to bring down the prices of the product and make it affordable to the public at-large. Importantly, WTO members have

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