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India May Lift Pharma Export Curbs Over Easing China Supply, US Pressure

Amid growing pressure from countries like the US and easing supplies from China, India may lift the curbs on exports of certain active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and their formulations, including hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) that is touted to be effective to treat coronavirus disease, two government officials told Business Standard.

“Exports were banned given the shortage of raw material in the country that could have, in turn, led to a crisis in the home market, especially for key drugs like paracetamol, etc. The APIs for these drugs primarily came from the Hubei province. But now the supplies have eased. Lifting of the ban is, thus, being actively considered,”said an official.

In the first week of March, India restricted the exports of 13 APIs and their formulations to ensure there was no shortage in the domestic market. These include common medicines like paracetamol, vitamins, some anti-virals, hormones, and common antibiotics like tinidazole, metronidazole, etc. Since exporting these items now need to the government’s approval, there has hardly been any export in March.

India also imposed a ban on exports of HCQ (API and its formulations) after the drug came into limelight for its curative properties in treating Covid-19 cases. In the last week of March, the government had allowed exports on ‘case-to-case’ basis on humanitarian grounds from special economic zones and export-oriented units. However, on April 4, Indian imposed a blanket ban.

It is also around the same time when US President Donald Trump called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi and discussed the issue of HCQ. In his daily news conference at the White House during the weekend, Trump said, “I called Prime Minister Modi… They make large amounts of hydroxychloroquine. India is giving it a serious consideration.”

A leading exporter said: “There is enough stock of paracetamol in the country. At present, the US, which has become the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak, needs paracetamol.

US is worried that India’s stance can lead to drug shortages in that market, as we supply almost 25 per cent of the generic medicines sold in the US.” The exporter said India would lose its credibility as the “pharmacy of the world” if it adopts protectionist policies during such a crisis. Apart from the 13 APIs and their medicines, HCQ, too, is produced in India in large quantities. India is the largest producer of the drug and its API globally.

According to industry estimates, India can make 20 million tablets of HCQ per month. This, too, can be scaled up according to demand. “Suppliers in Wuhan are now in talks with companies here. Supply of some items in the restricted exports list is now also likely to begin soon,” a pharma manufacturer said.-Business Standard