Like EU, Japan FTA also a priority
The government seems in a hurry to conclude its key free trade agreements (FTAs) in 2010. Apart from aggressively aiming to conclude the EU FTA this year, not withstanding apprehensions of European parliamentarians or activists from Thailand, India and Brazil, the Japan FTA is also high on the radar.
According to a top official from the commerce ministry, most FTAs have political bearings and this year EU and Japan FTAs are priorities, along with those with countries such as Malaysia.
“In bilateral relations, each year there are certain priorities that are chalked out. But just because the Japan FTA is a priority, does not mean it will be signed, if India’s position is not met,” says the official.
There are strong concerns being expressed about the speed and secrecy with which the government is moving on the FTA front, with no parliamentary debate or discussions on the issue. Last year, New Delhi sealed FTAs with South Korea and the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) in a closely-guarded and opaque fashion.
Japan is currently a major trading partner, with India’s exports in 2008-09 standing at $3.02billion, while imports totaling $7.88 billion, as per estimates by the ministry of commerce and industry.
The two countries have also set a target of $20 billion in trade in this financial year, up from $12 billion in 2008-09.
Concerns over the Japan FTA include inclusion of strict intellectual property (IP) provisions, and access to second hand Japanese goods into the Indian market.
However, the official says that India will not agree to any provision which is not congruent with the country’s patent Act, and there will be no space for trade in second hand goods.
But IP and healthcare experts say there is strong pressure from Japan to accede to IP provisions such as data exclusivity, which can delay entry of low cost generic medicines to the market if granted, thereby increasing medicine costs.
Japan is also pushing a demand to make patent infringement a criminal liability. Currently in India, patent infringement is a civil liability, and making it a criminal offence would be a massive discouragement for the local generic medicine companies, says a Delhi-based IP expert.
Other than IP, apprehensions run high that through the FTA, Japan may dump used electronic devices, oil contaminated goods, incinerator ash, waste from chemical industries in India, by pressing to include these products in the list of goods enjoying preferential tariffs.
According to Gopal Krishna, convener, environmental body Toxics Watch, FTAs will legitimise the already existing trade in waste. “Concerns are over inclusion of toxic technologies and other waste as goods or commodities for tariff reduction.”
Priyanka Golikeri / DNA
April 22, 2010
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