India: Possibility of UK trade deal 'much higher' says expert
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Mark Samuels, chief executive of the British Generics Manufacturers Association (BGMA), said that the UK medicine manufacturing industry – which supplies the NHS with four in every five drugs – was “really supportive” of the Government’s efforts to secure a free trade deal with India. However, he said that striking trade deals that include “streamline” regulations to cut red tape would allow British producers to sell to new markets.
He also suggested that free trade with India could help limit supply issues, and free trade deals generally provided “an opportunity for Britain to exert some influence internationally” over standards.
The NHS relies on India for a large portion of its medicine supply: Mr Samuels estimates the UK gets around a third of its medicines and “much” of its active pharmaceutical ingredients from Indian producers. China is another key supplier.
The global supply chain issues that have caused shortages and pushed prices up are doing the same for medical supplies. Some forms of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have been in shortage in recent months, and there are fears that list could expand further.
In an interview with Express.co.uk, Mr Samuels said his members wanted the Government to show “some creativity around easing the shipping problems” as shipping was “costly, unreliable” and “not getting any better – in fact, if anything it’s getting worse”.
He added: “That ought to be something that benefits both sides – India and the UK.”
Shipping rates and air freight have skyrocketed to six times what they were just a year ago.
The British generics manufacturing industry – which produces medicine that is no longer patent-protected – would be supportive if regulatory checks were updated while still maintaining safety.
Mr Samuels commented: “Where quality testing is done once to a high standard, that meets what the MHRA’s requirements are, that’s probably audited by the MHRA […] then you do the batch testing in India to MHRA standards before it goes on a shipping container.
“When it gets shipped over to the UK, there’s no need to quality check it a second time, because all that’s happened is it’s come across the ocean in a shipping container.
“So if we could look at things like that, with the proviso that we maintain the very high standards that we all hope to have in the UK, then that would knock off some of the time and costs of getting products in.”
What would help the UK medicines industry in the future, though, would be if “regulatory alignment” could be reached non-European regulatory agencies, which would open up markets in “other comparable countries” such as Canada and New Zealand.
This would mean that UK-based manufacturers producing medication to Britain’s high standards could then be sold to other countries without the need for further checks.
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Mr Samuels said that medicine manufacturers “are global businesses; the vast majority of companies need to operate on a multi-national scale just to cover their costs – particularly in generics where the margins are thin.
“Achieving regulatory alignment means that manufacturers could sell their products in multiple countries more easily, and that’s what we need.”
In particular, Mr Samuels said India struggled to produce certain medications that required specific laboratory conditions, so “there are opportunities for our UK-based companies to produce some of the harder-to-manufacture generic [medicines] to sell and export to India.”
Not only would this be a boon to UK businesses, but ones that already bring “high-skilled, high-value” jobs to Levelling Up areas – and so could funnel money into the areas that most need it.
Regulatory alignment also offers the UK an opportunity to influence the way medicines are manufactured around the world.
Mr Samuels said that as well as potentially raising medicine safety standards, “this might be an opportunity for Britain to exert some influence internationally by seeking to strengthen the environmental regulations around medicine manufacturing.”
It is understood the Government agrees a free trade agreement with India would provide opportunities for improved shipping, investment opportunities and supports the Levelling Up agenda.
A Department for International Trade spokesperson said: “India is projected to become the world’s third largest economy by 2050 and a free trade deal will open huge opportunities for UK businesses to trade with India’s £2.2 trillion economy.
“We are committed to maintaining our high standards for medical products and will not agree to provisions which undermine or reduce the UK’s regulatory standards.”
Meanwhile, Mr Samuels told this website that so far UK generics manufacturers had yet to be affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, though some plants were based in nearby Poland.
He noted: “When the Russian rocket landed 15 miles from the Polish border, I think we were all nervous for many reasons, medicines being only one of them.”
Despite the cost pressures, UK manufacturers have been supplying medicines to the humanitarian effort in Ukraine, and Mr Samuels claimed that the medicines being sent to the warzone were “almost entirely” generics.
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