Date: 31-Mar-2020

Lockdown Hits Pharma Exports Due To Scarcity Of Truck Drivers, Freight Operators And Cargo Handlers

The 21-day lockdown announced by the government to curtail the spread of coronavirus outbreak has badly hit pharmaceutical export. The lockdown and restrictive measures on public movement have led to scarcity of truck drivers, freight operators and cargo handlers thus disrupting the movement of cargo and freight to and fro ports and airports.

Despite directives from the Union home affairs ministry exempting shipping and freight movement from the lockdown, pharmaceutical exporters are finding it extremely difficult to transport goods to the ports and airports by road and ship them. The harassment by local administration has hampered movement of truck drivers, freight operators and cargo handlers.

Considering the current situation and the rising cases of coronavirus, it is not possible for customs brokers to undertake clearance activity at the port terminal and port container freight stations, said a Mumbai based custom broker on condition of anonymity.

Said a senior executive from Ipca Laboratories which manufactures hydroxychloroquine (HCQS) tablets recommended by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for high-risk healthcare workers dealing with COVID-19 patients, “The movement of export-import containers by road has almost come to a halt due to the lockdown. We have export orders of HCQS from almost 100 countries under the advance licences but are finding it hard to ship the products.”

Though the government has restricted the export of HCQS to meet domestic demand, the export of the product has been allowed under advance licence.

There is severe shortage of truck drivers that move containers to and fro Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) which handles the majority of containerized freight of the country. Terminals at JNPT are functioning at about 30 per cent of capacity due to a sharp drop in gate-in and-gate-out activity, said a terminal official.

JNPT has waived dwell time charges for import containers moved by road to nearby container freight stations, directly to factories and empty containers unloaded from a ship from Mach 22 till March 31.

The Directorate General of Shipping, Mumbai has on March 29 issued an advisory on non-charging of container detention charges on import and export shipments.

The shortage of staff has also taken its toll on the operation of cargo airlines. Offloading boxes from the aircraft is a big challenge due to massive pileup at airport facilities.

Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council of India (Pharmexcil), representing drug exporters has reached to the commerce ministry for immediate intervention. Following commerce ministry’s direction, ministry of home affairs has come out with an advisory exempting exempting shipping and freight movement from the lockdown.

“As of now our biggest concern is to ensure uninterrupted export from the country which got hampered due to logistics issue since the nationwide lockdown. There is a lot of pressure from the importing countries,” said Uday Bhaskar, director general, Pharmexcil.

On March 30 the commerce ministry had convened a meeting to address the challenges faced by the exporters.

Meanwhile Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) under the department of commerce, ministry of commerce and industry has opened a helpdesk to resolve the challenges faced by importers and exporters due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 21-day lockdown in the country.

Pharmaceutical export from India stood at US$ 19.13 billion in 2018-19 and reached US$ 9.36 billion in 2019-20 (till October 2019). It is expected to grow by 30 per cent to reach US$ 20 billion by 2020.