Coronavirus impact: Govt mulls export curbs on 12 drug formulations

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Indian pharmaceutical companies typically keep inventories of approximately 45 days of the bulk drug, required in formulation, according to the CII assessment. (Representative image)The government is weighing a proposal to restrict exports of a dozen drug formulations to keep domestic supplies steady, until raw material imports from coronavirus-hit China resume without any obstruction, an official source told FE. The government may soon announce the names of these formulations.The situation is under control but the government doesn’t want to take any risk when it comes to providing adequate supplies of medicines to people. There will be further deliberation on restricting exports before a decision is made,” said the source.While the Indian pharmaceutical industry is a key formulation drug (value-added products) exporter, it relies heavily on imports of bulk drugs (active pharmaceutical ingredients and intermediates that give medicines their therapeutic value). As much as 68% of these raw materials were imported from China last fiscal.Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman held a meeting with key sectors to review the impact coronavirus outbreak in China. Even cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba held a separate meeting to take stock of the matter. On Wednesday, finance secretary Rajiv Kumar is learnt to have spoken to senior officials of key departments as well to seek inputs on ways forward.According to a CII estimate, India imported bulk drugs worth around Rs 24,900 crore in FY19, up by 30% from a year before, accounting for roughly 40% of the domestic consumption. Imports of raw materials from China have been on a steady rise over the years (from 62% in FY12 to 68% in FY19) due to the low-cost advantage enjoyed by Chinese manufacturers. In FY19, India imported APIs worth Rs 17,400 crore from China while exporting these items worth merely Rs 1,600 crore. In certain critical antibiotics and antipyretics, dependence on imports from China is even close to 100%.After her meeting, Sitharaman had said sectors such as pharmaceuticals, solar and chemicals had expressed concerns about possible disruptions in imports of raw materials from China. She said remedial measures would be initiated soon after due consultations with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). She had, however, ruled out an immediate spike in prices of essential commodities, especially drugs, due to such disruptions.After the coronavirus outbreak in China, India had on January 31 imposed a ban on the exports of certain personal protection items. However, subsequently, it cleared some of the protective clothing and personal protection equipment like masks for exports to China.Indian pharmaceutical companies typically keep inventories of approximately 45 days of the bulk drug, required in formulation, according to the CII assessment. If the crisis in China lingers for months, it can potentially hit Indian drug production. However, it has not reached a level of crisis yet, according to an assessment by the CII.

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