DELHI: It's not looking good between New Delhi and Washington. Tensions over the Khobragade episode are yet to fully dissipate, but the two sides are locking horns again over intellectual property rights. The Obama administration is scheduled to announce unspecified ''trade enforcement action'' against India on Monday evening (Tuesday am IST) Washington time.
United States trade representative (USTR) Michael Froman and general counsel Timothy Reif will hold a news conference to announce action related to India, the USTR said earlier in the day in a head's up to journalists.
The Indian embassy in Washington DC too scheduled a briefing by its economic and commerce wings soon after the expected US action. All this comes ahead of a re-scheduled visit to New Delhi of US energy secretary Ernesto Munoz, which was postponed from January because of the Khobragade row.
At the heart of the latest ongoing dispute is the perception in US quarters, particularly among its business and industry in sectors like pharma, that India's poor intellectual property rights protection is undermining them (and according to Indian critics, undercutting their avaricious profit taking). The two countries are also sparring over everything from export of shrimps that pit the fishermen of Kerala versus fisherman of Louisiana, to the import of steel pipes.
Last week, the US chamber of commerce called for measures to reprimand India over IPR, in an effort to prevent Indian drug companies from producing cheap generic versions of medicines still under patent protection. Organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have supported India in its effort to produce cheap medicines for the world's poor with modest improvements in IPR, but Big Pharma isn't impressed by the rapid strides made by India's generic drug industry, which they feel threatens western advances.
Incidentally, the head of the US Food and Drug Administration, Margaret Hamburg, is on a ten-day visit to India even as Washington has cracked down on India-based pharma majors such as Ranbaxy for sloppy production procedures among other things. There are murmurs in the Indian industry and in the corridors of the government that India companies are being singled out because they threaten the runaway profits made by western drug companies.
On Monday, the Global Intellectual Property Centre (GIPC), an organization ostensibly aimed at advancing US industry interests, pressed the USTR designate India a "Priority Foreign Country" under its Special 301 report ''in order to strengthen engagement with India to address the rapidly deteriorating intellectual property environment in this market.'' The GIPC believes that USTR's Special 301 Report provides an important tool to assess those countries that fail to abide by their IP rights obligations as outlined in trade agreements and international rules, the center said.
USTR honchos appeared prepared to wield the stick against India although a hearing on the matter is scheduled on February 24 as part of the administration's annual review of IPR rules and practices impacting US businesses worldwide. The office releases a Special 301 report at the end of the process.