This week, senior officials from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) are visiting India to continue discussions on various bilateral trade issues, including intellectual property (IP) rights. The talks are a precursor to a long-awaited India-US Trade Policy Forum scheduled to take place later in the year. They are a welcome opportunity to consider how both nations can benefit from stronger IP protection and enforcement.
India’s recent actions to block a WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement that could have added an estimated $1 trillion to the global economy raised serious concerns about Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to opening India’s market and incentivizing overseas investment. India’s actions dealt a particular blow to poor countries, which would have benefitted disproportionately from a trade facilitation deal. According to the OECD, full implementation would have reduced international transaction costs for low and lower middle income countries by up to 15 percent.
However, there’s still time for India’s new government to break from the protectionist policies of the past. The fact that dialogue between India and the United States is even taking place is a step in the right direction. And few steps would have a greater impact on promoting economic growth and jobs in India and repairing a damaged bilateral trade and investment relationship than reforming India’s patent regime and strengthening IP protection and enforcement.
India’s economic present and future depend on technology and creative industries. The Indian Software Product Industry Roundtable believes the country has the potential to build a US$ 100 billion software product industry by 2025. Bollywood is already the world’s largest film industry, and gross receipts have almost tripled since 2004. Yet by almost any measure, India’s climate for IP protection and enforcement consistently ranks among the very worst in the world.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, India’s IP environment ranks dead last among 25 industrialized and emerging economies measured against 30 factors that are indicative of IP regimes that foster growth and development. The country’s long track record of rampant copyright piracy and repeated steps to deny, revoke and compulsory license patents on innovative medicines have earned it a place on USTR’s Special 301 Priority Watch List for a record 26 straight years.
If Prime Minister Modi really wants India to be “open for business,” as he stated repeatedly on the campaign trail, then his government must put in place measures to protect new ideas and technologies – including bringing patent rules in line with global norms, reforming copyright laws to better protect creative industries and safeguarding confidential business information.
Implementing measures that strengthen IP protection and enforcement in India would be a welcome first step to improving trade relations with the US and would signal to the world that India is serious about becoming a global economic leader for years to come.
Manufacturers in the United States expect USTR to make a clear case for reform and real results leading to a more mutually beneficial trade and investment partnership this week. We hope India will listen.