Third time unlucky

Even as Union finance minister Manmohan Singh proclaimed the success of liberalisation and globalisation of the country's economy before World Bank officials in April this year, the Clinton administration targeted India for discriminatory sanctions under the Special 301 provisions of the US Trade Act. This is the third time since 1991 that India has been singled out for punitive treatment.

US trade representative Mickey Cantor said the step was prompted by "India's persistent failure to effectively protect intellectual property rights". US officials contend India's patent law has "numerous deficiencies" and lacks provision providing product patent protection for pharmaceuticals. Patent periods are also inadequate, they add.

In turn, India maintains multilateral negotiations under the Uruguay Round are the ideal forum for discussions on the patent protection issue and USA's unilateral action under Special 301 is not in accordance with GATT principles of a multilateral trade regime.

Says Dinesh Abrol of National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies (NISTADS), who has been a keen observer of the development of US pressures on India to check profligacy of process patents, "While President Clinton has proclaimed concern to bring down the cost of health care in USA, the imposition of Special 301 provisions on India implies that he does not really believe in free market pricing to be the best way to public welfare."