A Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom has cautioned against any clause in the proposed India-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that increase the period of intellectual property (IP) related market exclusivity to pharmaceutical companies as it will impact the budget of his country’s publically funded National Health Service (NHS) system.

In a letter to UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade, opposition MP Nick Thomas-Symonds referred to the concerns raised by the civil society groups over the contents of the leaked IP Chapter of UK’s negotiation text, and wanted reassurances to be given by the UK government that steps are being taken to ensure that access is maintained to life saving drugs for the poorest people in the world.

“There are also clear concerns regarding the potential impact on the budge of NHS and the need to provide access to pharmaceutical supply chains”, the letter said.

He also called for urgent investigation into the security surrounding the India-UK FTA talks to understand how market sensitive information has been accessed by the media before UK Parliamentarians could scrutinize the proposed deal and the progress of the talks. “It is vital that progress is made on a trade deal with India, but the government must have a robust negotiating strategy that does not undermine vital safeguards on health, environmental, workers and gender rights”, the MP said.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, a member of the House of Commons and the Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, also complained that despite an urgent question in the House of Commons, there was no substantial update in the Parliament.

The leaked IP chapter suggests both India and UK parties cooperate in application procedures, obtaining and maintaining IP rights, reducing IP infringement and enforcing IP. It stipulates that both parties “shall” endeavour to cooperate in fostering international harmonisation and enforcement of IP and that both parties shall endeavour to cooperate in streamlining and simplifying the process for examination and granting of patents. The civil society groups opposing such clauses have been saying that such harmonisation of enforcement provisions can harm the availability of and trade in generic medicines and affect how Indian courts can handle disputes over IP rights.

Tweeting his letter, the MP said that “it is vital new trade deals don’t destroy access to affordable medicines for the NHS and the poorest people of the world”.

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