Exporting Opportunities for the Indian PPE Industry

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Exporting Opportunities for the Indian PPE Industry

India realized the critical role of PPE in combating COVID-19 as early as March 2020, wherein the Ministry of Textiles stepped up to lead the assessment of the availability of protective wear/PPE for frontline health workers. As per reports, over 600 firms came together to produce PPE kits and, in 60 days, the PPE industry in India witnessed 56 times growth. As a result, the short-term supply disruptions from China in the chemical sector created an opportunity for Indian companies, and global players have reached out to India for alternative supply sources. Concentrating on strict environmental safety and adopting global best practices will enable Indian manufacturers to export to Europe and the United States of America, writes Rohit Kulkarni, Principal Consultant and Yamini Vivek, Consulting Analyst, Visionary Science Practice, Frost & Sullivan.

The chemical and petrochemical industry urged the Central Government to declare the entire value chain as “essential” during India’s COVID-19 lockdown period. The industry plays a major role in essential goods like food, edible oil, drugs, fertilizers, etc., and the Indian Chemical Council highlighted the importance of lifesaving drugs, which require a consistent supply of key chemicals. For example, a basic drug such as Paracetamol requires many chemicals, such as Benzene, Sulphur, Chlorine, Hydrogen, Nitric Acid, Sulphuric Acid, etc. Like chemicals, polymers derived from the petrochemical sector form an important component in medical devices like catheters, blood transfusion pipes, blood bags, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Hence, the plastic downstream industry was treated as essential due to its vast application in agriculture, potable water, food, process flow, etc. However, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the petrochemicals and chemicals sector will differ across the value chain, with packaging industries experiencing a boost. The short-term supply disruptions from China in the chemical sector have created an opportunity for Indian companies, and global players have reached out to India for alternative supply sources.

Measures to attain self sufficiency

The government and industry players have implemented various measures to make India self-sufficient in PPE. India realized the critical role of PPE in combating COVID-19 as early as March, wherein the Ministry of Textiles stepped up to lead the assessment of the availability of protective wear/PPE for frontline health workers. Collaboration between governments at the central and state levels, industries, and workers are required to revamp existing production lines to manufacture a completely new product from scratch. According to the report, over 600 firms came together to produce PPE kits and, in 60 days, the PPE industry in India witnessed 56 times growth. PPE includes goggles, face shields, masks (surgical/N-95), gloves (surgical/examination), coverall/gowns (with or without aprons), head covers, and shoe covers. India now has over 600 companies certified to manufacture PPE with over 110 government identified companies. Domestic PPE kit manufacturers include Alok Industries, JCT Phagwara, Gokaldas Exports, and Aditya Birla.

The Union Health Ministry issued guidelines for the production and use of PPE. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) specifications have been set for virus-resistant and fluid-resistant PPE kits. The Health Ministry issues guidelines on reuse and disinfection of eye protection goggles and establishes rules to ensure proper disposal of PPE kits. State governments have asked the private sector to ramp up the production capacity of ventilators, gloves, and goggles. The Preventive Wear Manufacturers Association of India (PWMAI) devised plans to bring PPE kits under a licensing framework to improve quality standards. Government initiatives such as cutting the cost for licensing facilities and products, accelerating the development of high speed manufacturing lines, and assisting companies in overcoming barriers to production will allow local companies to shift production to PPE equipment.

Close collaboration between India’s Central Government, its various research institutions, the state governments, and the country’s highly fragmented textile industry helped create the world’s second-largest PPE industry. Multiple company mergers and acquisitions and joint ventures aided the production process. India’s automotive sector also started producing PPE kits.

Steps to address bottlenecks and strengthen the supply and distribution of PPE

Technology Enhancement: Improve local supply chains via more efficient planning to localize, regionalize, and secure shorter supply lines. There should be more focus on implementing new technology with high-speed manufacturing lines and reducing the cost of licensing facilities and products. Adopting new technologies such as 3D printing would greatly enhance the supply chain because 3D printing technology consolidates the number of components and processes required for manufacturing. This will significantly impact the global supply chain and reduce complexities, resulting in cost savings, enhanced lead times, and improved time-to-market. By adopting global safety standards, India can become an export-driven market. Concentrating on strict environmental safety and adopting global best practices will enable Indian manufacturers to export to Europe and the United States of America. Disposal and processing of PPE suits damage the environment; hence sustainability is becoming an important criterion, with a preference for reusable PPE.

Open Borders: India is among the top countries in Asia with the maximum number of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). Overall, except for a few agreements such as the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), India has been unable to fully leverage most of its FTAs. Post-COVID-19, the Indian Government must re-evaluate current bilateral and multilateral trade agreements and seek new ones that enable supplies of critical components and materials. Necessary measures must be implemented to remove obstacles such as high-cost compliance and strict regulations that hamper the overall competitiveness of exports in the country.

Leverage India’s Research & Development: India’s ideas and innovations must be promoted with multiple options in terms of price, material, and types of PPE. By collaborating with countries that are innovators in this segment, knowledge transfer at an international level can be achieved through research partnerships and building strategic alliances. India can build analytics to create efficient PPE supply chain management mechanisms that keep track of the demand for critical products by leveraging technical know-how. This will also enable demand forecasting, help estimate stock levels, and limit wastage.

Conclusion

India has shown leadership in being innovative and acting quickly by producing over 4.5 lakh PPE kits per day within the first three months of the COVID-19 outbreak. The country is taking steps to rise and provide the rest of the world with the necessary resources. According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the “Make in India” spirit "embedded in the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan has resulted in providing resilience and self-sufficiency" to the country to manufacture various medical equipment, including PPE. With the boost in domestic production capacity and meeting the domestic requirements for PPE, the Director-General of Foreign Trade (DGFT)’s revised notification in July permitted the export of these kits. With the ease in lockdown restrictions, India managed to export 23 lakh PPE to five countries, including the USA, the UK, the UAE, Senegal, and Slovenia, in July, according to the Health Ministry. India has now positioned itself in the global PPE export market.

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