It was indeed a New Year present as the pharmaceutical health sub sector awoke to the news of duty slash on imported pharma raw materials in January. One would recall that during the last Annual National Conference of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) which took place in Minna the Niger State capital in November of 2016, the body of pharmacists reeled out a number of points in a communiqué, to the government of the day regarding how to move the health sub sector forward.
Prior to this event however, the PSN had made a high powered representation to government when it among other issues earnestly requested the president Muhammadu Buhari-led federal Government to see to it that every visible impediment on the way of local manufacturing as well as importation of pharmaceutical raw materials were ameliorated for the survival of the industry and for the general health of the citizenry.
We welcome therefore the action of the Federal Government in its bid to promote development in the critical areas of the economy by the reduction of import duties of some 115 items including pharma raw materials.
The items which fall under the national list have their import duties reduced from 10 percent to 5 percent include raw materials that are basic for the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector of the economy, and this being in line with the provisions of the Economic Community of West African States’ Common External Tariff (ECOWAS CET), covers for the 2017 to 2019 fiscal periods.
But beyond this move, the next most important agenda on the mind of government should be to halt the ‘import syndrome’ where manufacturers consistently depend heavily on imports rather than source raw materials locally. It is rather sad that with the abundance of resources Nigeria is still caught in the web of an import dependent raw materials economy, the pharma manufacturing sector inclusive.
We therefore wish to call on the Federal Government, especially its agency which was statutorily set up to research and develop viable alternatives to imported raw materials, to up their game. Thus the current situation in the country is rather a wakeup call to the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) to ensure a gradual reversal of this embarrassing trend. Their positive actions could galvanise so much activities so as to generate employment for the teeming number of unemployed youths instead of furthering job creation and fuelling manufacturing in foreign lands.
The mandate of RMRDC to promote, develop and utilise the nation’s vast industrial raw materials to feed the industries should be carried through even in pushing forward their needs before the executive, or legislative chambers so as to be urgently enabled to carry out their functions. And so it behoves the federal government to do the needful in ensuring that the agency is empowered to spearhead a revolution that will no doubt rub off on the entire manufacturing sector especially strategic ones such as pharmaceutical and medical health.
It no longer makes sense as Nigeria goes through a recession to continue in a manner where 80 to 90 per cent of raw materials used by local industries are said to be sourced abroad even in the face of an abundance of local natural resources. In this light, we strongly feel that RMRDC collaborating with the Ministry of Industry, must be quickly repositioned to reverse the trend which according to experts continues to be a huge drain on the nation’s economy to the tune of N1 trillion annually.
We expect that in a short while Nigeria should be able instead to export (pharmaceutical) raw materials to foreign countries having fully satisfied local needs, and also, be in a position to clearly take over the West African market. It is simple economics for anyone to understand that the persistent high cost of production is mainly due to the prevailing high cost of raw materials which are mostly sourced from abroad, and automatically translating into high prices of locally produced goods even when compared to imported ones.
When these measures are put into action they will by no means go to eliminating the burden borne by local pharma manufacturers for instance, owing to persistent high cost of obtaining foreign exchange for importation, while generally boosting industrial growth.