Global drug supply fears as India curbs paracetamol exports

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
In this photo illustration, pharmaceutical pills and capsules seen displayed. (Milos Vujinovic/SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

India’s government has restricted the export of 26 drugs and medical ingredients including paracetamol, sparking fears over supplies in Europe and the US.

One Indian industry leader said European importers were “panicking,” while US officials are assessing the impact on US drug stocks.

A list of newly restricted exports includes not only paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, but also antibiotics like tinidazole and erythromycin, the hormone progesterone, Vitamin B12 and chickenpox and herpes treatment acyclovir.

There are concerns in India, the world’s biggest generic drug maker, over domestic supplies of drugs because the coronavirus has hit key supply chains in China.

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But Indian pharmaceutical firms are fighting against the export limits, warning other countries also rely on the products. India is Britain’s third biggest medicine and pharmaceutical supplier, while it is reported to provide around almost a quarter of medicines in the US.

Dinesh Dua, chair of the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India (Pharmexcil), told Reuters on Wednesday: "I am getting a huge number of calls from Europe because it is very sizeably dependent on Indian formulations and we control almost 26% of the European formulations in the generic space. So they are panicking.”

Pharmexcil has already written to India’s foreign trade department, warning the move could “severely impact” not only exporters’ bottom line but also their credibility abroad.

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The curbs mean firms can no longer export freely, and will have to seek licences. A document published by the Indian government on Tuesday detailed the restricted products, but did not make clear how strictly exports could be curtailed.