China is India’s largest source of imports, nearly 15 percent of which are sourced from China. Many of India’s major imports—electrical machinery, electronic and semiconductor devices, fertilizers, antibiotics, iron and steel products, and vehicular parts—are extensively sourced from China. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the critical dependence of India’s pharmaceutical industry on China for active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). The dependence on China for both intermediate and finished products, has encouraged India to incentivize greater production at home through production-linked-incentives (PLIs) and to work with Japan and Australia on reorganizing regional supply chains. The paper examines the repositioning of supply chains in the strategic industry of pharmaceuticals. Efforts to reduce dependence on China assume great importance in this regard as India strives to become the leading supplier of affordable vaccines for tackling COVID-19.)
The decade of the 2020’s has begun with India embarking on the dedicated mission of reducing import dependence and increasing self-reliance. The COVID-19 pandemic has starkly exposed the frailties of supply chains relying heavily on China. For India, which relies extensively on China for several critical imports, no sector is more vulnerable to disruptions from over-dependence than its pharmaceuticals. India’s reputation as the “pharmacy of the world” drawn from its great proficiency in making affordable pharmaceutical formulations and vaccines, relies fundamentally on sourcing essential drug intermediates from China. As one of the leading actors in the world’s fight against COVID-19, India is wary of sourcing disruptions from China affecting its ability to contribute to expanding global health security.
After focusing on the import dependence of India’s pharmaceutical industry on China, this paper analyzes the recent initiatives announced by India for increasing economic self-reliance and reducing such dependence. It concludes by reflecting on the prospects of India decoupling from China in sourcing pharmaceutical ingredients.