Separating economic and border issues

As we exit the lockdown and resume economic activity, we will have to observe certain protocols. Like social distancing. Or using hand sanitisers in office, public places or even at home. These sanitisers are alcohol-based, and usually come in dispenser pumps. The pump minimises human contact, unlike a tube or bottle. It is made of plastic, has 16 components, and costs less than Rs 20 if produced at scale. Here’s the rub: As reported by an online news outlet, we have not been able to find domestic manufacturers who can produce dispensers at a large scale, at this cost. We are facing a health crisis, and urgently need large quantities of dispenser pumps. There’s no alternative but to import from China.

Take pharmaceuticals. We are the world’s leaders in bulk drug formulations, used by leading medicine makers of the world. But these formulations need crucial active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) as inputs. Without APIs our pharma industry, both domestic and export, will be crippled. And 65 per cent of APIs are imported from China, worth $3.5 billion (i.e. about Rs 25,000 crore). When imports were halted in April and May due to the lockdown and stoppage of sea and air cargo, there was near panic in the Indian pharma industry. This could threaten even our internal supply situation for medicines. And there is no realistic option of switching to any other supplier, at this cost or scale. Unless we risk rising medical costs.

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