Letters from India No 19

´Letters from India´ is a fortnightly brief written by Finnish exchange activists participating in the Lokayan - Kepa co-operation programme. The ´Letters´ are circulated primarily among the staff of the organisations and members of the groups responsible for the joint activities, i.e. Lokayan´s Global Responsibility Forum - Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam and Kepa´s India Group.
Anastasia Laitila

DELHI -- Two weeks have now passed in India, and again I have gained new experiences to share with you. I am writing this with a slight fever, so please excuse any disorientation.

On Afghanistan

As you all know, the situation in Afghanistan is getting more and more intense. This reflects both in the political situation of South Asia and the upcoming WTO Ministerial in Doha and the "inevitable new round", but also on other issues such as patent rights and the TRIPs agreement.

Nearly every night there seems to have been a cultural event (mostly arranged by students here in JNU campus) against the war and for peace. So far I've only participated in one, which seems to have cost me my health but was definitely worth it. This particular event was organized by a left wing students group and there were musical groups, poets, a street play, speeches and US war movies. Arun Kumar Singh (whose knowlidge on WTO issues I consider him the local Ville-Veikko) was with me and translated even the songs, so I was able to get an idea of the views presented. Before the program we had an interesting conversation on non-governmental organizations and their work and influence. What we in Finland would call NGO in English would be movement or civil society group in here. The NGOs in India are mostly big, foreign funded, and more extensions of the government than representatives of the people. But I will put no more emphasis on this now, as it will be discussed more on my paper on WTO, India & civil society groups (under construction :). There was one particular song in the cultural event that I'd like to quote; summarized it went something like this: "Muslims and Hindus, why fight/There's a McDonald's in every city/so drink Pepsi and eat burgers/---Why discuss bread and water/drink Pepsi and eat burgers". One event especially worth mentioning was the fact that JNU is near the airport, so all the time airplanes were flying above us. You could not forget what was happening in Afghanistan, and one was sort of expecting them to drop bombs, ground troops or food packages with plastic forks and paper towels. Food and bombs, what a combination.

Opposition against the attacks on Afghanistan and the US is growing steadily in Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, there have been demonstrations against the US and for Taleban. In India, there was an attack on a Coca cola plant and at least two boycotts on North/Anglo-American products, apparently mostly by Muslims and against killing of the innocent. It is increasingly clear that the US and apparently also the EU are using the current weak economical situation as means to persuade or forced to accept the new round in the WTO. After the unofficial WTO meeting of 20 countries in Singapore less than two weeks ago, all opposition towards the new round suddenly silenced. A couple of days ago the Indian government announced under the circumstances all they could do is try hard to keep all new issues such as investment, competition etc out of the round and insist on implementation issues. The LDCs and Organization of African Unity seem to be thus the only groups officially opposing the "inevitable new round", but they won't be able to stop it without help from countries the likes of India. All in all, the situation looks miserable.

TRIPs declaration, media expertise

The way and expertise of many Indian journalists about WTO issues has been a happy surprise for me. In Finland, mainstream newspapers have hardly paid attention to the Doha Ministerial, not to speak of specific details and agreements such as TRIPs. So there is a clear gap between countries (and the media of such countries) that are heavily affected by economic globalisation and countries that have most of the playing cards. The developing countries reacted immediately to the Ministerial Declaration Draft, prepared by WTO General Council Chairman Stuart Harbinson. If the Finnish media published anything on the issue, I didn't come across it. The TRIPs agreement has been under intense debate in the Third World. Such declaration would ensure governments the right to protect public health by liberally interpreting the agreement to issue compulsory licenses to third parties for production of patented medicines at low cost; arrange for parallel imports from competing suppliers; allow developing countries to go beyond 2004 and 2005 to implement the TRIPs agreement and more assertions that would give governments the right to take necessary measures to address public health concerns. The idea rose from the African group earlier this year concerning patented retro-revival therapy for AIDS/HIV patients. Medication supplied from US or European manufactures cost $10,000, while Indian companies were willing to offer the same medication for $350.

Naturally protecting public health would not be only in the interests of developing nations, and this has come out in an interesting manner during the anthrax scare in the US. The patent for Citroflaxacine, drug used for anthrax, is owned by German company Bayer's. Citroflaxacine is not the only drug that can be used to cure anthrax (penicillin and doxycycline are other options), but it is the preferred one. US Bayer's has a patent on the drug until 2003, but questions have been raised whether the company has the ability to meet the demand and the cost. German, Indian and US producers have all increased production on the drug. Canada "broke the patent" and licensed it's largest pharma producer, Apotex, to supply one million tablets at a price half Bayer's price. In the US, Cipro (brand name for the drug) sells wholesale at $4.67 per 500 mg and US government's purchase rate is $1.83 a tablet. Compared with Indian drugs the difference in costs is enormous. In the city of Chennai (formally Madras), companies providing anthrax drugs sell at prices as low as 2 to 5% of the US prices . Despite of this the US refuse to reconsider their position on liberal interpretation of TRIPs. Switzerland and Germany, home to the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies, is also strongly opposing any statement or political reading on TRIPs.

WTO agitation

I took the opportunity of using the work I have done in Finland and translated the paper on WTO I had prepared for Kepa during the summer (the WTO paper in Finnish), including some additional points and an annex on the Doha preparations. This can be used as background material in here, and seemed to fit their needs.

I ve also taken part in two agitation meetings at JNU campus hostels, they have been very good but since I m unwell, also tiring (in a good way, I think). On the second meeting I spoke of ‘European struggles against WTO', today I was requested to present the second draft of the Ministerial declaration.

WTO ministerial declaration

The second draft came out on Friday 26th Oct, and has again gained opposition. It is not better than the first, and many feel it is in fact worse. I have not had the time to look into it very closely yet, I will do that today and see for myself. The additional paper on TRIPs and public health also seems problematic, since Western countries are not willing to do a proper declaration and many developing countries are fiercely insisting for it. I understand why the African group has brought out this initiative, but I feel it is somewhat dangerous to include a separate TRIPs declaration on public health. Health should not be discussed in TRIPs, and since TRIPs is affecting health, it is a question of abolishing or reforming the agreement rather than having a side paper on health. Also the alternatives given in the paper seem bad: for example, protecting public health and addressing public health crises are not compatible, and who will a determine what is a crisis? Does there need to be a public health crisis before countries are allowed to protect public health? I m beginning to feel very strange about the fact that this is such a big issue here and in Finland... well, you know.

I have experienced problems with trying to change my flight (In Finland I was told it is easy. It is not.), so I don t know yet shall I return next Tuesday or Tuesday after that. I also heard that I had actually gotten visa for Qatar, but since I had cancelled all my plans to go there and it would be difficult to arrange from here and it might not be very wise to go there, I probably won t. That is my short report now, wish you well.