India's complaint against the European Union on the unjust seizure of cheap generic drug consignments meant for Latin America and African nations has received a boost, with the World Health Organisation terming such action “misuse of rules” against counterfeit medicines.

In a statement issued in Geneva, the WHO on Thursday rapped the EU for seizing the Indian generic drugs in transit for patent violation. “Let me be very clear. WHO deplores such things. WHO deplores that this has happened,” said Hendrick Hogerzeil, who heads the essential medicines programme at the United Nations health agency.

“We had asked both the Netherlands and the EU at that time what was happening, and we ask them to make sure that this does not happen again. It was an improper, unfortunate use of counterfeit legislation.”

In the last more than one year, EU member-countries, especially the Netherlands, had seized or halted several shipments of Indian-made generic medicines bound for Latin America and Africa.

India, along with Brazil, protested against these seizures and made known to the EU its strong displeasure against the move through trade and diplomatic channels, terming it a violation of international rules. Although India has held several rounds of talks with EU representatives, nothing seems to have come of it despite repeated assurances that the wrong would be undone. Consequently, the two countries went to the WHO and filed formal separate complaints, claiming that developed countries were using the cover of a fight against counterfeit medicines to protect pharmaceutical giants and suppress legitimate generic drugs.

India and Brazil have asked the EU and the Netherlands to enter into dispute settlement consultations over the alleged violation of global rules.

The two countries raised the issue in 2008 also when Dutch customs authorities detained Indian generic drugs at the behest of leading Western pharmaceutical giants.

Under the WHO dispute settlement provisions, the EU will have to enter into consultations with India and Brazil as a first step and amicably resolve the issue within two months. If they fail to reach an agreement through Article 4 consultations, the two countries can call for the establishment of a dispute settlement panel to adjudicate the alleged violations of trade rules by Brussels.

According to Indian officials, Dutch customs seized at least 19 consignments of generic drugs in 2008 and 2009; of these 16 originated in the Netherlands.

Keywords: European Union

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