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September 17, 1998


India to comply with WTO rulings in patent cases, 'fulfil obligations'

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Rediff Business Bureau

In a sudden change of tack, the Union Cabinet on Thursday evening decided that India will comply with and abide by the rulings of the Disputes Settlement Body of the World Trade Organisation.

A government spokesperson said the Cabinet approved the proposal that India's ambassador and permanent representative to the WTO be advised to inform the DSB of its readiness to comply and fulfil its obligations.

This implies that India's patent cases related to the agricultural, pharmaceutical and chemical fields will now be resolved by the WTO. Measures to fulfil the obligations will be carried out before April 19, 1998.

A case against India filed by the European Union is still pending with the WTO. India is a signatory to TRIPS or trade related intellectual property rights agreement which lays down that WTO's member-countries offer patent protection to products related to agricultural, pharmaceutical and chemical fields.

According to rationale given by the Cabinet, India is bound to honour the decisions of the DSB as a founder-member of the WTO. ''We are committed to carry out the obligations,'' the spokesperson said.

There has been resistance in India to the government's move to accept the WTO terms and conditions related to product patents. There is a body of opinion that India should accept only process patents as against product patents.

Parliament will now have to enact Product Protection Act before April 1999, the deadline set by the WTO for member-countries.

Patent experts said the decision would pave the way for patent protection for products coming into India. This is expected to help the country as the world's best products and inventions will no longer be kept off India. Another view was that Indian entrepreneurs will stand to benefit as they will have easy access to the world's competitive markets.

However, in a related development, thousand of farmers led by Mahendra Singh Tikait today took out a rally in the Capital to protest against India accepting the WTO's diktat. Leaders said such a course will destroy the Indian agricultural structure and the Indian farmer besides imperilling the country's bio-diversity.

Addressing the rallyists, speakers said that the move smacks of western countries' imperial designs on the country, that it is a sellout to multinational corporations. They marched through the roads to meet with Vice-President Krishan Kant. They urged him to convey their stance strongly to the government.

Ever since India became a party to the World Trade Organisation in 1995, the Patent Bill had been a bone of contention between the developed countries and the Indian government after successive regimes failed to pass the bill in Parliament.

The Congress was successful in getting the bill passed in 1995 in the Lok Sabha, but the entire Opposition in the Rajya Sabha voted against it.

With inputs from UNI

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