A month after Pakistan suspended bilateral trade with India and vowed never to resume unless India reverses its decision on Kashmir, Islamabad has now allowed the import of life-saving medicines to avoid a severe crisis vis-à-vis availability of life-saving drugs in the local market.
Statutory regulatory orders (SROs) issued by the Ministry of Commerce and Textile state that the ban on trade with India would remain effective; however, it would not apply to therapeutic products regulated by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap).
Earlier, after New Delhi’s decision to revoke Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, Imran Khan-led PTI Government decided to suspend all kinds of trade with India. Initially, the pharmaceutical industry had appealed to the government to relax rules and allow Indian goods imported before the decision. The government relaxed the rules and the goods already arrived in Pakistan had been cleared.
However, since a large quantity of medicines and raw material are imported from India, the industry started demanding that the ban be lifted on them as well. Otherwise, it feared, the country could face the severe crisis of medicines, especially life-saving drugs, in a few weeks.
According to reports, a meeting was held last week to discuss the issue. “All stakeholders participated in the meeting and informed it that in a few weeks it would be almost impossible to ensure availability of medicines because the pharmaceutical industry depends on Indian medicines and raw material.”
The official said the meeting was also informed that Indian medicines were available at affordable rates and prices of medicines would increase if the government did not go for an alternative arrangement.
“We compiled all their suggestions and sent them to the Ministry of National Health Services, asking the decision-makers to lift the ban or face criticism from the masses as prices of medicines will increase. The third option for the government was to subsidise the medicines, but it appeared to be difficult given the financial condition of the country,” he said.
On Aug 17, the Employers’ Federation of Pakistan (EFP) had suggested that APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients) imported from India to manufacture life-saving products by the local industry should be allowed on the condition that pharmaceutical companies would develop alternative sources of APIs within a period agreed upon with Drap.
The EFP feared that immediate suspension of trade with India without any guideline would affect the pharmaceutical manufacturers and result in shortages of medicines in Pakistan.
Another Drap official, requesting anonymity, said that a number of medicines or their APIs were imported from India and in case of the continued ban there would be a severe crisis of medicines in the local market. Moreover, the official said, the government’s decision would result in an increase in smuggling of medicines and APIs and revenue losses in terms of import duties to the national exchequer.