Currently, India is one of the fastest-growing economies of the world along with China. Even during the recent global financial meltdown process both India and China could register a very impressive average GDP growth of around 7% consistently during the last so many years. This growth is over three times more than that of the developed countries like the US, which has been growing just around 2% in the recent years.
India growth story, I reckon, is now attracting a large number of companies across the industries from all over the world including India to lobby hard and participate in the process of spectacular growth across many industry sectors. Such lobbying activities in India are expected to increase by manifold in the years ahead.
As per newspaper reports the large corporations involved with these activities, besides pharmaceuticals, include the world’s largest retailers, the coffee shop giants, financial services, insurance companies and technology majors in addition to chemicals, telecom, defense and aerospace giants.
Currently, many US-based companies, as reported in the lobbying disclosure reports filed by them with the US Senate, are lobbying for various issues ranging from facilitating the market access to easing of foreign direct investment caps in retail, insurance and other financial services sectors in India to facilitate their business expansion in the country.
Indian Pharmaceutical sector is becoming more and more attractive to many:
Keeping pace with other high growth industries of the country, Indian Pharmaceutical Market (IPM) with the current domestic turnover of around US$ 12.1 Billion has been registering a scorching pace of CAGR growth of around 15%, since over a decade. The domestic pharmaceutical industry now caters to about 20% of global requirements of high quality and affordable generic medicines of all types.
IPM is, therefore, a global success story and India has already established itself as a major force to reckon with, especially in the development and manufacturing of high quality generic pharmaceuticals, as well as in Contract Research and Manufacturing Services (CRAMS), in the pharmaceutical industry of the world.
IPM is creating newer jobs:
As per reports, in roughly around 20,000 pharmaceutical organizations and its ancillary units over one million people are currently employed by the Industry. As mentioned above, though India has globally established itself as a producer of high-quality medicines available at reasonable prices, predominantly due to a very high of around 80% ‘Out of Pocket’ expenses towards healthcare in India, ‘common man’ still finds it extremely difficult to bear the cost of illness. Such critical public health interests India can ill afford to ignore.
Spectacular progress of the Indian Pharmaceutical Industry:
India, during its independence on August 15, 1947 inherited the patent system of its British colonial masters. Drugs and Pharmaceuticals used to be largely imported from the developed world in that period with local production being absolute minimal.
This abysmal trend and pattern of the IPM of pre-independent India took another 20 years to make any significant change worth mentioning. It will be quite difficult even for the staunchest skeptics to brush aside the fact that the Indian pharmaceutical industry started blossoming since 1970, mainly due to abolition of product patent act and government encouragement with various fiscal and tax incentives paving the way for the emergence of a vibrant high quality drug manufacturing sector in the country. However, that was the need of the 70’s and certainly not for now.
It is good to know that so far as national self-sufficiency in pharmaceuticals is concerned, as per Indian Drug Manufacturers Association (IDMA), it is far above 70% despite many tough challenges.
Patent regime of many ‘developed economies’ had a stormy beginning:
While deliberating on product patents, it should be noted that in many industrial nations of the world, the protection of inventions through patents started taking place in around the last 40 years.
For example, pharmaceuticals product patents in Switzerland came into effect only since 1978. History tells us that at the fag end of the 19th century the pharmaceutical industry in Switzerland fought vehemently against the enactment of a patent law to be able to imitate foreign drugs, such as Aspirin of Bayer. Mainly because of this reason, at that time, Germany used to consider Switzerland a ‘state of robber barons’. Similarly, France used to be known as a ‘country of counterfeiters’.
Some historians have written that exactly in the same way like India, as mentioned above, the economies of Korea, Taiwan and the ‘land of the rising sun’ – Japan were able to thrive in their formative years due to absence of patent protection in those countries.
Young India is possibly crossing, if not has already crossed that stage much sooner than many others.
Innovation is the ‘Wheel of Progress’ of any nation:
However, it is an undeniable fact that ‘innovation’ is the wheel of progress of any nation. Without innovation, it is virtually impossible for any country to make significant economic progress. The Prime Minister of India has thus termed the current decade of 2010 as the ‘decade of innovation’ for India.
It has been well established by now that ‘Technology Transfer’ from the developed nations not only brings profit to those countries from patent protection and shields them from low-cost competition, but also helps the developing nations to add requisite speed to their growing economy.
However, most developing nations want access to such technological innovations at an affordable and lesser cost without any possible future risk of oligopoly and ‘technological recolonisation’.
New Product Patent regime in India came much after China and Brazil:
India signed the WTO agreement to become its member in January 1, 1995 and following a 10-year transition period, on January 1, 2005 the country amended its national patent legislation to usher in the product patent regime. The lose knots, if any, in the amended Patents Act of India are widely expected to get strengthened as the domestic innovators will feel the need for the same and possibly not due to any extraneous pressure.
Compared to India, product patent came much earlier in China and Brazil. China enacted its first patent law on March 12, 1984. However, it provided little protection to pharmaceutical and chemical inventions. In 1992, China amended the 1984 patent law in compliance with an agreement between China and the United States, as well as to join the WTO. Similarly, the new patent law came into force in Brazil way back on October 6,1999, which also has the provision of issuing Compulsory Licenses (CL).
International independent domain experts feel that it will take some more time for India to gauge the real benefits of product patents for the country.
Public interest for ‘Health and Nutrition’:
The philosophy of India since decades has been to ‘promote the principle of relying on one’s own strength’, especially in the critical and a very sensitive areas of public interest for ‘Health and Nutrition’. Many independent experts in this field both from India and abroad have opined that India seems to be following this path without compromising on its TRIPS compliance status. However, there are some dissenting voices in this area, who feel that a more rigorous and robust patent regime in India is in the best interest of the country.
Should the government regulate lobbying activities?
Considering the fast emerging environment, as mentioned above and arising out of some recent very sensational lobbying related financial/policy scams in India, the moot question, as is being raised by many across the country is: “Should the government regulate the lobbying activities in India?”.
Even in the Pharmaceutical Industry, some instances of lobbying activities carried out both within and outside India, had led to raging debates and controversies.
To cite an example, not so very long ago, some consumer activists from the civil society vehemently protested against the ‘Intellectual Property Conferences’ held in India, which were allegedly sponsored by some interested groups in a guise to influence the policy makers and the judiciary of India.
It was widely reported that the consumer activists viewed these IP summits, organized by the George Washington University Law School of USA as ‘attempts to influence sitting judges on patent law enforcement issues that are pending in Indian courts.’
In a letter dated February 26, 2010 addressed to Shri Anand Sharma, Minister of Commerce and Industry of India, over 20 NGOs demanded transparency and more information on such meetings and wanted the government of India ‘to put a stop to such industry sponsored lobbying with Indian judges and policymakers to promote their own requirements for intellectual property and to lobby for either law amendments or even to plead their cases currently pending before, various courts and the Indian Patent Office,”
In raising their concerns, the civil society groups argued that the posture adopted by the lobbyists and their supporters is to “force India to adopt greater standards” of IP protection “beyond the mandatory levels” required by the WTO, which may go against public health interest in India.
Lobbying activities are expected to gain further momentum:
It is quite logical to expect that lobbying activities in such and many other areas both ‘for’ and ‘against’ are expected to gain momentum in the times to come. However, it is widely believed that long-term interest of India is expected to ultimately prevail in this closely watched ball game.
Lobbying is legal in many countries like the US with the government ground rules firmly in place:
We all know that in many countries like the US, lobbying is a legal activity. Many Indian companies, including the government of India have been lobbying in the US since so many years to present their cases and argument with the American law and policy makers.
When President Obama came to power in the US, it was reported: ‘one of the first acts of the Obama administration in office was to have an executive order which prohibited the Obama Administration either from hiring lobbyists – those who had lobbied within two years of joining the administration or allowing people who had left the Obama administration to service lobbyists for two years. The idea is that you want to break the chains where there is undue influence of special interest groups upon the government’.
However, there are no government ground rules still in place for lobbying in India either for the local or the global companies and their lobbyists, across the industry sectors.
It was discussed somewhere about ‘surrogate lobbying’ in many industries from various parts of the world. I have really no idea about what these are and the legality of such activities without appropriate well-drafted government specified disclosures in place, for public interest.
Be that as it may, in the US such activities are required to be intimated to the US senate by the companies concerned and their lobbyists highlighting their activities in form of a quarterly disclosure reports detailing not only the issues, but also the concerned government departments and institutions and the related expenses.
Let me hasten to add that despite a long history with regulated and legalized lobbying in the US, still there has been severe criticism in that country of the way lobbying has worked there in the past so many years. India has plenty to learn from such experiences.
Thus, as a part of following the global ‘public interest best practices’, a large section of the civil society in India has been voicing in so many ways, mainly after the recent financial and policy related mega scams, that it may be a good idea, if the government also puts system driven adequate checks and balances in place for lobbying activities in India, sooner.
It is believed by many that such regulations will ensure perfectly legal lobbying initiatives in India always maintain complete transparency and follow appropriate processes/procedures of disclosures to maintain a right balance between long-term public interest and the growing requirements of a healthy business ecosystem to accelerate the inclusive economic growth of the nation.
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.