Senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh has said the COVID-19 pandemic and border tensions with China have exposed India's strategic vulnerabilities in the pharma sector. According to Ramesh, India produces around 20 per cent generic drugs and 60 per cent of the vaccines produced across the world, and exports them to around 200 countries. He said the foundation of such a large industry was laid by the Patents Act, 1970, and that price regulation that started in the 70s protected many consumers. However, despite that India imports 70 per cent of the total APIs from China, he said.
Indian pharma: 3rd largest by vol. globally. Share of 20% generics exports & 60% of vaccine prodn., exporting to > 200 countries.— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) August 19, 2020
The foundation was laid by Patents Act of 1970. Public sector IDPL spawned many pvt enterprises too. Price regulation from 70s protected consumers.1/4
He said India, which houses the third-largest pharma industry in terms of volume, depends on China for most of its active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). India's total API import from China is around 40-80 per cent of the total cost of production, he said, adding that during the coronavirus-induced lockdown in May and June, the API prices shot up steeply, exposing India's vulnerabilities.
Flagging a complete imbalance in India's trade with China, Jairam Ramesh said the country depends on China for imports of other crucial equipment such as reagents, enzymes, and antibodies. He added that the current health crisis in India amid the coronavirus outbreak should be the top priority for the government's Atma Nirbhar Bharat campaign.
Further, in medical devices & diagnostic sector, almost all components (reagents, enzymes, antibodies & equipment) are imported, threatening India's health security in a time of crisis. This should be one of the top priorities for Atmanirbhar Bharat.@PMOIndia 4/4— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) August 19, 2020
Notably, amid the rising tension with China, and India's resolve for self-reliance, the Centre is planning to hike customs duty on imported active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) by 10-15 per cent.
Last month, the DoP notified two key policies -- Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme to promote domestic manufacturing of critical Key Starting Materials (KSMs)/ drug intermediates (DIs) and Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) and a scheme for promotion of bulk drug parks. Incentives of Rs 10 crore were also announced for Indian companies to set up plants to produce 41 products, including 53 crucial APIs for which India currently depends on China. These incentives were part of the Rs 10,000-crore production-linked incentive scheme approved by the cabinet in March.