‘Maira Committee’ delivers: Resolves 100% FDI issue in the pharma sector of India

On October 10, 2011, Dr Man Mohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India accepted the recommendation of the ‘Maira Committee’ on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the Pharmaceutical Sector of India and decided that the Competition Commission of India (CCI) will continue to scrutinize all Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) in this area to avoid any possible adverse impact on Public Health Interest arising out of such deals.

Finance Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, Health Minister Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Commerce and Industry Minister Mr. Anand Sharma, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia and the head of the ‘Maira Committee’ Mr. Arun Maira were reported to be present in the meeting.

Finer details are still not known:

Although the details of the ‘Maira Committee Report’ nor the discussion with the Prime Minister are not known, as yet, the key recommendation, as reported by the press was to be in relaxation of the threshold limits of CCI scrutiny for pharmaceutical M&As, which under the current law involve target companies with a turnover of above Rs 750 Crore (Rs 7.5 billion) and assets worth more than Rs 250 Crore (Rs 2.5 billion).

The CCI will now be strengthened and directed to set up a standing advisory committee especially to look into M&A in the pharmaceutical sector of India to  address the concerns of the stakeholders in this matter.

The new system in CCI within six months:

The new system will be put in place within a period of six months. By the time CCI equips itself to handle the recommendations of the ‘Maira Committee’, as an interim measure, all brownfield pharma M&A proposals will be routed through Foreign Direct Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) for a period not exceeding six months.

A press note from the commerce & industry ministry announced at the same time that “India will continue to allow FDI without any limits (100 per cent) under the automatic route for Greenfield investments in the pharma sector. This will facilitate the addition of manufacturing capacities, technology acquisition and development.”

Looking back:

While looking back, the consolidation process within the Pharmaceutical Industry in India started gaining momentum since 2006 with the acquisition of Matrix Lab by Mylan. 2008 witnessed one of the biggest mergers in the Industry till that period, when Daiichi Sankyo of Japan acquired Ranbaxy of India for USD 4.6 billion.

Key apprehensions and counter arguments ‘for and against’ FDI cap:

Last year, Abbott’s acquisition of Piramal Healthcare with USD 3.72 billion followed several media reports on the Government’s keen interest in instituting new restrictions on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the pharmaceutical sector for the following apprehensions:

The first apprehension of some stakeholders was that such FDI will create ‘Oligopolistic Market’ with adverse impact on ‘Public Health Interest’. It was argued by others that Indian Pharmaceutical Market (IPM) has over 23,000 players and around 60,000 brands. Consolidated Abbott, being the largest domestic player, enjoys a market share of just 6.1% in a highly fragmented market. Thus, the apprehension that an ‘Oligopolistic Market’ will be created through acquisitions by the MNCs is unfounded.

The second apprehension was on limiting the power of government to grant Compulsory License (CL). With a CL, the Government, under the Indian Patents Act can authorize any pharmaceutical company to manufacture any medicine required by the country in an emergency situation for ‘Public Health Interest’. On this point the argument put forth was that with more than 20,000 registered pharmaceutical manufacturing companies operating in India, many of them with high skill sets, there will always be skilled manufacturers willing and be able to make needed medicines in an emergency situation, as happened during H1N1 influenza pandemic.

Creation of a legal barrier by putting a cap on FDI to prevent domestic pharma players from voluntarily selling their respective companies at a lucrative price, just from the CL point of view, others argued, sounds highly protectionist in the globalized economy.

The third apprehension was that lesser competition will push up drug prices. The counter-argument was that equity holding of a company has no bearing on prices or access, especially when prices are governed by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) and competition pressure. Thus, prices of medicines of Ranbaxy, Shantha Biotechnics and Abbott have reportedly remained stable even after their acquisition.

India needs FDI in the Pharmaceutical sector:

Both ‘Greenfield’ and ‘Brownfield’ FDI contribute not only to the creation of high-value jobs for the country, but also improve access to high-tech equipment and capital goods. Technology cooperation with the MNCs stimulates growth in manufacturing and R&D spaces of the domestic industry. It was articulated that any restriction to FDI in the pharmaceutical industry could make overseas investment even in the R&D sector less attractive.  India has already suffered a 40% drop in FDI between 2009 and 2010 with a 17% drop in pharmaceutical FDI.

Foreign investors look up to India for cost arbitrage and expertise in Contract Research and Manufacturing Services for improved market access. Thus, it is believed by many that FDI can lead to increased domestic pharmaceutical exports by India, as happened in countries like China and Brazil, where they have programs to encourage partnerships with MNCs to bolster their domestic industry, helping the nation to benefit more from FDI.

India is against protectionist measures by other countries – Safeguards are in place:

Moreover India as a country, is known to be quite vocal and against any form of protectionist measures by other countries which will adversely impact the trade and commerce of our nation. It was perhaps felt by the ‘Maira Committee’ that any policy decision to do away with the current practice of allowing 100% FDI will be taken by the international community as a ‘protectionist measure’ in the pharmaceutical sector of India. It was reportedly felt by them that any possible adverse impact of M&A on competition could be effectively scrutinized by the Competition Commission. At the same time, it is a known fact that any unreasonable price increase is currently being effectively addressed by the NPPA. Thus it appears, effective safeguards to protect ‘Public Health Interest’ arising out of any M&A in the pharmaceutical sector of India, have been put well in place.

FDI policy needs predictability and stability to attract more investments:

Pharmaceutical sector was opened up for 100% FDI through automatic route only in 2002 as a part of the financial reform process, positioning India as an attractive investment destination for pharmaceuticals. This reform process, investors feel, needs stability, as by partnering with MNCs local drug companies have begun to gain access to international expertise, technology, resources, good manufacturing practices and markets.

It now appears that the ‘Maira Committee’, some key ministers present in the meeting and the Prime Minister himself felt that any move, at this stage of economic progressive of the country to restrict FDI in the pharmaceutical sector, especially when appropriate safeguards are in place, will be a retrograde step in the financial reform process of India. This could adversely impact FDI not only in the Pharmaceutical sector but possibly far beyond it.

Conclusion:

The final decision of the PM is a victory to all participants in this raging debate. All stakeholders seem to be satisfied with the decision, as their concerns have been well taken care of by the ‘Maira Committee’.

The issue of 100% FDI in the pharmaceutical sector, without putting any cap on it, has now been finally resolved, as it has come from the highest decision making authority of the country.

Both ‘Greenfield’ and ‘Brownfield’ FDI in the pharmaceutical industry of India, I reckon, will continue to contribute not only to high-value job creation, improving access to high-tech equipment and capital goods, boosting global technology cooperation in manufacturing and R&D spaces of the domestic industry, but will also make a significant contribution to the overall progress of the pharmaceutical industry of India.

The decision taken by the PM on the ‘Maira Committee’ report on October 10, 2011, therefore, seems to be a right step towards a long term nation building process without compromising with the ‘Public Health Interest’ of our country in any form.

‘Maira Committee’ has indeed delivered!

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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