India has indicated that export orders for Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), an anti-malarial drug being experimentally used in many countries for treating COVID-19, could be allowed to be released if companies had enough stock.

The statement made by the Ministry of External Affairs on Tuesday is important in the light of a recent threat made by US President Donald Trump of retaliatory action against India if its demand for HCQ supplies is not met by this developing country .

Commerce Ministry officials say that while export of the drug has been completely banned by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) through a notification issued on April 4, exports can be made only if the export policy is relaxed at the Minister’s level to allow shipments.

“Policy relaxation can be given by the DGFT through the policy relaxation committee, but policy relaxation has to be given by the Commerce Minister,” the official told BusinessLine.

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This, even as DGFT bans export of hydroxychloroquine

Going by the MEA’s recent statement, it seems India may be ready to give policy relaxation for HCQ. ”About paracetamol and HCQ, they will be kept in a licensed category, and their demand position would be continuously monitored. However, the stock position could allow our companies to meet the export commitments that they had contracted,” said Anurag Srivastava, Spokesperson, MEA, in response to queries.

He further said that given the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, it has been decided that India would licence paracetamol and HCQ in appropriate quantities to all our neighbouring countries who are dependent on our capabilities, and to some nations who have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic.

“Since the US is one of the nations most affected by COVID-19 virus, it would certainly fall in the category of nations badly affected by the pandemic that India seeks to help out by supplying HCQ. But we will have to wait for our orders,” the official said.

In a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently, Trump had sought the release of the orders for HCQ made by Washington. India had imposed import prohibition on the medicine on March 23 to ensure enough availability for the domestic population with exports allowed under limited conditions, including humanitarian grounds. However, on April 4, a revised notification was issued by the DGFT, placing a complete prohibition on HCQ exports without any exception.

Trump said at a White House press conference on Monday that the US could take retaliatory action against India if it doesn’t sell the drug to his country.

There are more than 3,65,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US with close to 11,000 deaths. In India, the number of infected is close to 5,000 with around 136 deaths.