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The UK government is being urged to scrap demands around intellectual property protections in its negotiations with India for a free trade agreement.

Bloomberg reports a letter has been sent by a group of academics, lawmakers, medics and charities to Rishi Sunak’s administration claiming that the UK’s current demands could threaten the supply of cheap life-saving drugs.

‘Copycat’ drugs

The letter from the ‘UK Missing Medicines Coalition’ follows the leaking of documents that show that the UK wants longer patent protections for medications than what is currently in place within India. It is thought that major players in the UK’s pharmaceutical industry back this demand.

Critics of this stance have written to the government to say that the move would see increased costs for the NHS, which currently imports ‘copycat’ versions of medicines that have fallen out of patent in India due to the country’s shorter protection periods.

The letter was addressed to both prime minister Sunak and business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch. Among its signatories are charities such as Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières, as well as Labour MPs Richard Burgon and Kim Johnson.

Sticking point

The Telegraph reported earlier this year that Indian negotiators had rejected the UK’s demands for stricter IP laws on generic drugs.

“Britain wants India to accept so-called TRIPS-plus arrangements, which offer longer patent protection for drugs than normally applies under the international agreements to which India has signed up, according to a leaked draft of the free trade agreement,” it said.

An Indian official close to the talks told the paper that it was unlikely that the UK would succeed in getting the demand included in the final deal.

Deal close?

The UK and India began talks for a free trade agreement on 17 January 2022 and it is thought that both countries are keen to complete negotiations ahead of probable respective national elections next year.

A full deal before the end of 2023 is thought to be unlikely, though there could instead be an announcement of a agreement on parts of the agreement, according to the Telegraph.

‘Not a given’

Other sticking points in the talks include Indian demands for more highly skilled visas for IT workers and healthcare workers, as well as rules of origin for British car exports, the IOE&IT Daily Update has previously reported. 

Ahead of the G20 summit in Delhi in September, Sunak told reporters including Sky News that an imminent deal with India was “not a given” and that he would not put an “artificial deadline” on the talks.