Brazil and India file complaint against EU over seizure of generic drugs

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 18 May 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2672
  1. John Zarocostas
  1. 1Geneva

    India and Brazil have filed legal proceedings against the European Union and the Netherlands over the seizure of generic drugs in transit, alleging that the actions breach global rules and undermine public health in poor nations.

    The two countries, in separate complaints filed with the World Trade Organization (WTO), claim that in 2008 and 2009 customs authorities seized consignments of generic drugs on grounds that the shipments were suspected of infringing patent rights (BMJ 2009;338:b1002, doi:10.1136/bmj.b1002).

    India says that Dutch authorities seized at least 19 consignments of generic drugs in transit in 2008 and 2009, 16 of which originated in India. These included a consignment of the antiretroviral abacavir from India, bought on behalf of the drug purchasing agency UNITAID and destined for Nigeria; one of olanzapine, used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, destined for Peru; and one of rivastigmine, used to treat dementia, also destined for Peru.

    Other generic drugs seized included a consignment of the antihypertensive losartan, destined for Brazil, and a shipment of clopidogrel, used to treat coronary and cerebrovascular disease, destined for Colombia.

    “These measures have a highly negative systemic impact on legitimate commerce, South-South trade [trade among developing countries], and national health policies in the developing countries,” Brazil said in a statement.

    “In addition, programmes sponsored by international aid agencies are being disrupted by such seizures of generic medicines,” it said.

    Brazil emphasised that the contested measures were still in force, “causing lack of predictability and increased costs of medicines at the destination markets.”

    India’s ambassador to the WTO, Ujal Singh Bhatia, outlined in his country’s complaint to the organisation that the measures “have a serious adverse impact” on the ability of developing nations and in particular the poorest “to protect health and provide access to medicines for all.”

    In light of the move by India and Brazil, John Clancy, a spokesman for the European Union’s trade commissioner, told the BMJ: “The EU remains fully committed to ensuring that people in the world’s poorest countries can access affordable medicines.”

    Mr Clancy added that the European Commission “has been discussing this issue with India over many months and has already signalled its intentions to modify its legislation to the extent necessary to clarify the procedures relating to medicines in transit.”

    He said, “We are confident that a dispute on this issue will not be necessary and that our consultations will help give clarity as regards the EU intentions.”

    Under the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism countries usually have 60 days to resolve their differences through consultation. However, if they fail to do so, the next step available is to request the establishment of a dispute panel to examine the complaint and rule on whether the contested measures break global norms.

    Health and development advocacy groups have also taken the EU to task over the seizures since the information stated to surface early last year and are keeping the pressure on Brussels to scrap the measures targeting generic drugs.

    Thiru Balasubramaniam, representative in Geneva for the non-profit group Knowledge Ecology International, which advocates for social justice, particularly for poor and marginalised populations, described the EU action as “indefensible.”

    “We are deeply concerned that these [EU] rules, and many other rules being proposed in a plethora of new trade agreements, do not protect legitimate sellers and buyers of generic medicines when those goods move in global trade,” he said.

    In a world with territorial patent rights, it is important that the rules for “goods in transit . . . permit the transport of medicines from places where they can be made to places where they will be used,” Mr Balasubramaniam added.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2672

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