26% dip in drug ingredient import from China
India’s efforts to reduce reliance on China for drug ingredients are slowly showing results, but concerns of over-dependence on it — pointed out by national security advisor Ajit Doval — still remain.
In 2017, India imported 354 Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) from China, a 26% dip compared to 447 in 2015, largely achieved because the number of countries India imported such material from increased from 44 in 2015 to 58 in 2016 and 59 in 2017.
The number of APIs imported from China has grown slightly compared to 2016 (316) though. Also, import from China is still the highest in this category, accounting for 66% of all imports in 2017 — Rs 12,254.97 crore of the Rs 18,372.54 crore. The trend has remained similar in all the three years.
Many of these APIs go into 12 essential drugs listed by India — paracetamol, metformin, ranitidine, amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, cefixime, acetylsalicylic acid, ascorbic acid, ofloxacin, ibuprofen, metronidazole and
ampicillin — and 8 of which are also on WHO’s Model List of Essential Medicines.
Officials from the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) and industry experts point out that the import of APIs is because of economic considerations, but experts also pointed out the issue of quality that comes with such over-dependence.
Earlier this month, India banned import of APIs from six Chinese firms claiming they did not meet the required quality standards.
Drugs Controller General of India Dr GN Singh said: “Our mandate is limited. We are concerned about the quality of imports and are always keeping a track of it. The ban on those firms is routine and should not been seen as targeting the Chinese companies.”
He said that India is also manufacturing APIs and there are more than 500 products, but most of them are being exported. Indian Pharmaceutical Association president Dr Rao VSV Valdlamudi said drug prices in the domestic market are controlled and while the APIs being exported command the price their quality demands, they do not fetch the same price domestically.
“The problem of over-dependence, however, is a much larger issue. If China stops importing from India, will India be able to turn all its exports to the domestic market? Over-dependence has to reduce. At present the government doesn’t take into consideration many variables and overheads in production and subsidies, as some argue, is not a longterm solution,” Rao said.
India has been putting in place some systems, but chemicals and fertilisers minister HN Ananth Kumar, while blaming legacy, concedes the Centre is not fully happy with the progress.
“Historically, there has been too much dependence on China and previous governments have done nothing about it. We took a twopronged approach.
First, from 0% customs duty on import of APIs from China, we made it 7.5% which is very good for domestic API makers. As per the Dr Katoch Committee report, we initiated having bulk drug parks and the first will come up near Hyderabad,” he said.
He said the Centre will provide up to Rs 500 crore for common facilities like power, water, effluent treatment, testing and trading facilities at such parks, which will reduce production cost by 30% making it globally competent, even compared to China.