Why FG must maintain ECOWAS tariff – NIROPHARM
The Association of Nigerian Representatives of Overseas Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (NIROPHARM) has charged the federal government to demonstrate its commitment to improving the wellbeing of Nigerians by upholding the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Common External Tariff (CET) regime.
NIROPHARM President, Pharm. Lekan Asuni, made this call on behalf of the group, during a recent press briefing aimed at addressing the recent call by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN), for an adjustment of 20 per cent tax on imported finished pharmaceutical products of Harmonised System (HS) Code 3003 and HS Code 3004.
The NIROPHARM president explained that while it was good for the government to support local manufacturing across all industrial sectors, the PMG-MAN’s position should be jettisoned as there were more benefits accruable to the wider Nigerian pharmaceutical industry and most importantly Nigerians if the existing ECOWAS tariff regime was supported and sustained.
Asuni argued that while the association urged the FG to ensure that inputs into local pharmaceutical manufacturing, such as raw materials, excipients and packaging, be allotted zero percent importation tariff, suggesting an importation adjustment tax of 20 per cent on imported finished pharmaceutical products of HS code 3003 and HS Code 3004 which include medicines that are used to treat some chronic diseases such as cancer, was wrong and should not be supported.
The NIROPHARM boss stated that since drugs used for treating such serious ailments were not produced locally, removal of taxes on them would actually help to ensure that patients that require them pay less which is a great relief in this economically challenging time.
He stressed that access to healthcare is a fundamental human right, adding that withoutequitable access to essential medicines for priority diseases, this fundamental right enshrined in international treaties recognised by governments all over the world cannot be fulfilled.
Pharm. Asuni stated that, based on a WHO study conducted in 2014, over 70 per cent of doctors’ consultations result in drug prescriptions; thus improving access to essential medicines is thus fundamental in tackling ill-health, adding that when available, affordable, qualitative and and properly used, essential medicines save lives and improve health.
The NIROPHARM boss also argued that over 70 per cent of essential medicines required in Nigeria were imported, with the PMG-MAN supplying less than 30 per cent, adding that some critical life-saving medicines such as insulin and vaccines had to be imported because no local manufacturers had the requisite technology to manufacture them.
Pharm. Asuni explained further that the adoption of the ECOWAS CET by the FG which places zero import duty on medicines is a step in the right direction towards improving access and increasing availability of essential medicines, as import duties, tariffs and taxes are among the factors that determine the prices of medicines.
The NIROPHARM boss argued that prior to the adoption of the CET, medicines were more expensive in Nigeria compared to other ECOWAS countries like Ghana, Togo and Benin Republic, adding that the price differentials resulted in high level of cross-border smuggling of medicines and parallel import, and consequently, loss of revenue to Nigerian registered companies and the government.
The level of smuggling, Pharm. Asuni noted, was so high that Nigerian companies had to constantly change the packaging of their products to differentiate them from the smuggled versions from neighbouring countries.
The NIROPHARM helmsman stated that aside helping to substantially reduce smuggling, the ECOWAS CET will make it easier to combat fake and adulterated medicines and increase opportunities for Nigerian manufacturers to supply their products to the more than 300 million population of the ECOWAS market.
“Access to essential medicines is crucial to the well-being of Nigerians, therefore, it is important for the FG not to give in to backmail or allowed itself to be nudged into supporting anti-people policies that will lead to higher prices of medicines,” Asuni urged.