Delays in clearing import consignments from China at India’s ports and airports may soon hit the pharmaceutical sector, creating shortages and increasing costs.
Medical equipment such as infrared thermometers and pulse oximeters needed in the fight against Covid-19, among others, are stuck at the ports and may result in shortages soon, according to the Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council (Pharmexcil).
The delays have also hindered the supply of key starting raw material, intermediates and active pharmaceutical ingredients, said Dinesh Dua, chairman of Pharmexcil.
Customs officials are said to be checking all cargoes imported from China instead of inspecting them randomly, causing delays. Drug ingredients and Covid-19-related medical devices as well as diagnostics that are stuck, especially at Jawaharlal Nehru Port and New Delhi airport, have left importers worried.
“Current disruption from customs will seriously and adversely affect pharma industry, which is at the forefront of fighting all diseases including Covid 19,” Dua said. “Hold-up of APIs and KSMs at ports will destabilise and derail availability of life-saving drugs both within India and the world. On the one hand, India is going up in global rankings of ease of doing business and on the other, we’re stepping back into inspector raj.”
Clearance delays of shipments at JNPT, which handles about 60% of India’s containerised freight including pharmaceuticals, and at Ahmedabad, Chennai and Delhi airports have become a cause of concern, the owner of a pharma company told ET on condition of anonymity.
Company officials said even consignments of the API of remdesivir, the most sought-after drug for treating Covid-19, are stuck. APIs are also known as bulk drugs and are the raw material for making formulations or medicines. Intermediates are chemical compounds that are used to produce APIs.
“We have been inundated with distress calls from a lot of our member companies that there has been an acute disruption in manufacturing of pharmaceutical products over the last three days,” Dua said.
Dua has written to the external affairs ministry, the cabinet secretary, the principal secretary, the Prime Minister’s Office, the department of pharmaceuticals and the health ministry, among others, seeking their intervention in the matter.
“Critical KSMs, intermediates and APIs are not being cleared for reasons not known to the industry,” Dua said in the letter dated June 27.
Devices such as infrared thermometers and pulse oximeters, along with glucometers and strips are held up at Delhi airport.
“During current distressed and challenging times of global Covid-19 pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry has risen to meet with the challenge. However, the ‘manmade’ disruptions have created tremendous difficulties for the industry,” Dua said in the letter, which ET reviewed.
Dua said if clearance of consignments is not expedited on “top priority,” the work done so far to maintain the production and supply levels may get diluted.
“Pharma goods at all major seaports and airports are getting delayed because of 100% checking. It is a cause of concern for the API industry and may impact the supply lines,” said Ashok Madan, executive director of the Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association.
With the recent Sino-India tension, there is also concern over the rising cost of APIs and drug safety.
India, the world’s third-largest drug producer by volumes, imports 70% of its APIs from China. For some APIs, especially antibiotics, dependence on China is over 90%.