PPE exports: Proper guidance and compliance support critical
Dr A. Sakthivel, Chairman, AEPC is confident about the potential of India in the global PPE market. But he asserts that strengthening the supply chain, with input suppliers like fabric, tapes and other accessories also following the required standards, would be critical for the PPE suppliers to meet the technical requirements.
IBT: What was your view of the global PPE market pre-COVID? How have the market dynamics changed in the past two months?
Dr. A. Sakthivel: Apparel Export Promotion Council was studying the products in which we can diversify during COVID and technical textiles – PPE was one our focus products to diversify. I was very optimistic about the potential of PPE exports from India. In the past two months, market dynamics have completely changed and PPE products emerged as a boon for the apparel industry of India. Now, most of the apparel manufacturers are developing their capacity to manufacture PPEs. Production of PPE has grown from 0 to 8 lakh pcs per day in 3 months.
IBT: India was not making any PPE kits prior to March 2020. Why were apparel manufacturers not looking at this opportunity at that time?
Dr. A. Sakthivel: The ecosystem for PPE manufacturing like technology, raw material & market information was not there before March, 2020. However, all this has been put in place and the ecosystem for PPE manufacturing has been developed with policy support and driven by market demand. The government has now opened up a quota of 50 lakh PPEs for exports. Currently, with growing cases of COVID-19, PPE kits are required in almost every sector.
IBT: What major adjustments are required in terms of the production process, raw material sourcing, adherence to standards, etc for apparel companies to pivot to PPE manufacturing?
Dr. A. Sakthivel: Production process in the domestic industry had an internal capacity. However, India did not develop much testing capacities of PPE. But now BIS & institutions like SITRA have done commendable work and developed standards. However, the industry still needs to work on the international markets like the US & EU. The council is actively working with the Ministry of Textiles for better understanding and capacity building in this area.
IBT: How do you view the potential for Indian players in the global PPE industry in the coming years, and how are they placed competitively at present?
Dr. A. Sakthivel: The Indian apparel export industry has shown great agility in switching to production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits and scaling it up from zero units to 8 lakh per day in less than four months. We are now looking to grab market share of the US$ 60 billion global market. Major suppliers of PPE kits are China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Germany, where China holds the largest share. Currently, we are placed in a very good position as we are ramping up our production and improving the quality.
IBT: Furthermore, what should be the strategic approach and what kind of ecosystem support is necessary for India to compete in the global PPE market in your view?
Dr. A. Sakthivel: The Council is of the view that PPE exports can be one of the biggest opportunities for India in the coming months. On the supply side, the major constraint is of the machines and inputs required for the production. Both are largely imported at the moment and policy support and indigenous capacity building would be important to increase supplies of these in the coming months.
The industry wholeheartedly welcomes the decision of the Government of India for restricted opening up of PPE Medical Coveralls which is the need of the hour. However, the quota for 50 lakh PPE medical coverall exports is a first step towards a calibrated and gradual opening up of PPE exports. The Council’s assessment of the domestic production capacity for PPEs, including coveralls and masks, especially N95 masks, shows the potential for further opening up in the coming days. We have requested for gradual opening up, which will give India the opportunity to become a leader in exports of PPEs.
IBT: What is the relevance of standards for this industry in the global context, and how well aligned are Indian companies with global standards?
Dr. A. Sakthivel: An important element of the PPE market is the technical specifications, standards and certifications required. Strengthening the supply chain, with input suppliers like fabric, tapes and other accessories also following the required standards, would be critical for the PPE suppliers to meet technical requirements.
Proper guidelines and compliance support for the whole value chain would be critical in strengthening the PPE manufacturing base in India. Also, awareness about international standards of PPEs to Indian suppliers would play an important role. We also request the government to have accreditation of Indian labs for PPE exports to major markets like US & EU.
Dr. A Sakthivel has been elected as the Chairman of the Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC) by the Executive Committee for the year 2020 to 2021. He was first elected to the Board of Directors of Apparel Export Promotion Council in the year 1982 thus serving the council for almost four decades. Dr A Sakthivel has also served as Managing Committee Member of Federation of Indian Exporters organisation (FIEO) for more than a decade. He was also the President and Regional Chairman of FIEO, Southern Region.
Dr A Sakthivel along with some exporters established Tirupur Exporters Association in 1990 widely known as TEA. He was the first President of TEA and with his dynamism, he held the post continuously for a period of 27 years. During his tenure as President of TEA, he toiled hard to develop the industry as well as Tirupur. During his tenure as President TEA, the export turnover of Tirupur industry increased to a whopping Rs 27,000 crores in 2016-17 from Rs 270 crores in 1990.
Government of India recognised his unparalleled service to export sector specifically to apparel Sector and knitting industry, creation of infrastructure such as industrial parks, ICDs and his contribution to the society with regard to education, drinking water, sanitation and drainage etc., by honouring him with one of the country’s most prestigious and esteemed Civilian Award “PADMA SHRI” in 2009, being the first in the overall textile industry.
Besides being privileged with many honours and accolades, Dr A Sakthivel was also conferred with Doctor of Literature (Honoris Causa) in 2011 by Bharathiyar University for his pivotal role in motivating many enterprising and capable yoDungsters to make a career in exports and also for his dedicated involvement in visionary projects, initiatives and his immeasurable contribution for the growth of industry and development of society.