India eyes barter for drugs for African countries hit by weak oil prices


Indian drugmakers see a barter model as a competitive path forward to keep sales flowing to emerging market countries in Africa hit by weak oil prices, building on efforts already underway on that front with Venezuela in Latin America.

The Business Standard newspaper reports that sharp drops in the Nigerian naira and Venezuelan bolivar have left drug exporters to those countries scrambling for payment options while policymakers seek to avoid shortages of crucial medicines.

Last month, Reuters reported that Indian government officials were looking to implement a barter deal with Venezuela that would copy deals done in previous years for oil from Iran as sanctions crimped dollar trade for food commodities and medicines.

Under the proposal, oil import-dependent India would allow state-owned lender State Bank of India to arrange a transaction that would handle the sale of the crude oil and the proceeds to the drugmakers.

Now, that plan may be expanded wider to oil producers elsewhere in Latin America and Africa that would possibly allow for payments in Indian rupees to the companies after barter deals that would ease the need to raise dollars for the buyers, the Business Standard said.

"With the fall in crude prices, the currencies of the African nations like Nigeria which is an oil exporter, has been badly affected. As a result, they do not have enough liquidity in their system to make payments. Therefore, the payments of Indian exporters are stuck," Viranchi Shah, vice-chairman of the Gujarat State Board of the Indian Drug Manufacturers' Association, told the newspaper.

"The situation is snowballing, he alleged, with exports to African countries slowing down."

In the past two quarters of earnings calls, multinational firms such as Merck ($MRK), Abbott Laboratories ($ABT), Roche ($RHHBY) and Pfizer ($PFE) detailed sharp losses on products sold in Venezuela under a weaker bolivar currency.

In the case of India, many of the medicines are low-cost generics made by companies that lack the financial cushion of multinationals to absorb losses. Business Standard said that India's Pharmaceutical Export Promotions Council noted that as much as one-fifth of India's $16.8 billion in drug exports head to African countries.

- here's the story from Business Standard

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