Trade deal between India, European Free Trade Association likely within a few days, says Norwegian Minister

FTA talks likely to be concluded in a few days with EFTA, comprising Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland; concerns remain about a clause which could delay access to generic drugs in India by six years

February 23, 2024 12:02 am | Updated 01:49 am IST - NEW DELHI

Norway’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Motzfeldt Kravik

Norway’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Motzfeldt Kravik | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Free Trade Agreement between India and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is in the final stages and is expected to be concluded within the next few days, Norway’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Motzfeldt Kravik said on Thursday, February 22,2024.

“We’re hopeful that we can conclude this now in the forthcoming few days. We will see how it goes. Of course, everything is still under discussion and we have to see how things play out. But we’re very optimistic. We have been at this now for several years and we’ve had very intense discussions. The respective Ministers from both sides, in terms of trade and trade policies, have been personally involved. I met with Mr. Piyush Goyal and discussed this. Again, we are very optimistic,” Mr. Kravik told The Hindu on the sidelines of the ongoing Raisina Dialogue. The EFTA consists of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

Concerns about drug access

The 21st round of negotiations for the trade deal were held in New Delhi from January 8 to 13. However, a possible matter of concern for India, on which there is no clarity, is the clause in the draft agreement that could delay access to affordable, generic versions of patented drugs in India by a minimum of six years, as reported by The Hindu last week.

According to a leaked draft, within six months of the trade agreement being signed, signatories should include a “specific duration” during which pharmaceutical companies applying to their country’s regulators for permission to sell a drug would not rely on “undisclosed test data” — in this case, data on the drug’s efficacy and impact on people — to gain market approval for at least six years.

Red Sea situation ‘unacceptable’

During his visit, Mr. Kravik said he had held discussions on global issues, such as the situations in Gaza, Ukraine and the Red Sea, as well as on Norway’s bilateral relationship with India. Advocating greater economic collaboration between the two countries, he said, “India is now a leader in the global South and also an ascending power, a potential forthcoming superpower, and a culture that we want to collaborate more with.”

Responding to a question on the situation in the Red Sea, where the Houthis continue to target commercial shipping, Mr. Kravik said that as sea faring nations India and Norway were very much aligned on this issue. The fact is that there is a non-state stakeholder attacking civilian vessels in the Red Sea, inhibiting commercial maritime traffic which is something that cannot be accepted or tolerated, Mr. Kravik noted.

“I spoke to your Foreign Minister about this, and he mentioned he had recently been to Iran to lay down a few markers, saying that this is not something that can stand and that Iran needs... what it can do to prevent this. And I was also recently in Iran. I had the same message, also been clear directly towards the Houthis that this is not something that is acceptable, both from a standpoint of international law, from a standpoint of commercial international traffic, and not something that is tolerable from an international legal perspective,” he said, expressing hope that durable solutions can be found so that the Red Sea route can be opened again.

Equal responsibility on Ukraine

On the war in Ukraine, which will complete two years on February 24, Mr. Kravik condemned it as a catastrophe in international violation of the UN charter. He termed it an issue that transcends geography, adding that it was not possible to accept that one country, Russia, has attacked another country, Ukraine, in “blatant violation” of international law.

“We have an equal responsibility. Countries such as India, Norway and other countries in the global South just as in the global north have to speak out against such violations of international law, just as we have to speak out when there are violations, for instance, in the Red Sea, the South China Sea, or the Gaza strip,” he said. “We have to be very principled and clear-eyed about these fundamental forms that have to be adhered to,” he added.

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