With 80% idle capacities, non-woven mask makers seek export permission

Rutam Vora Ahmedabad | Updated on July 28, 2020 Published on July 28, 2020

Against a monthly capacity of 77 crore, only 15 crore masks are consumed, claims trade body

A three-month dream run for non-woven masks makers — mostly MSMEs — has hit a roadblock with massive capacity built-up and exports restrictions hammering the plant utilisation to below 20 per cent.

The trade estimates a loss of around ₹1,000 crore for non-woven fabric makers and converters (masks products makers) on account of restrictions on export of spun bond non-woven fabrics and various types of masks.

After the Covid-19 outbreak in India, companies rushed to create capacities for 3-ply surgical and N-95 masks and hit a total capacity of about 77 crore masks per month. Mostly 90 per cent of the capacities were created after March considering a huge demand potential. But the actual consumption, as of July, remained at 14.6 crore masks per month leaving about 81 per cent of the capacities idle, thereby causing a financial stress to the investors.

A representative body of the industry, Non-Woven Federation of India (NWFI) has estimated that domestic consumption of spunbond non-woven fabric for medical application such as PPE Kit, 3-Ply masks and N-95 masks is around 5,200 tonnes per month, which is 12.6 per cent of the total production capacity of 41,350 tonnes.

In March, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) prohibited exports of textile raw materials for masks & coveralls and surgical/disposable masks fearing shortage in the country. But on July 13, DGFT allowed exports of non-woven fabric other than 25-70 GSM (gram per square meter), while continuing to prohibit exports of fabric of 25-70 GSM.

Raising the industry’s concerns, Suresh Patel, President of NWFI, said, “Majority of the demand is for Spunbond nonwoven fabric of 25-70 GSM. This policy of partially lifting of ban on non-woven fabric exports is technically not correct as there is no differentiation in manufacturing facilities on the basis of GSM. Manufacturers can make fabric of GSM ranging from 10 to 200 in the same plant with change in process speed.”

Patel ruled out the fears of a possible shortage of the PPE kits and masks and said “the government can reserve 50 per cent of the non-woven fabric production for domestic consumption, and allow exports of the remaining 50 per cent,” he said.

“India is self-sufficient in spunbond non-woven fabric and surgical mask requirements. Hence, the restrictions on their exports do not make any practical sense,” said Anshumali Jain, Vice-President, NWFI, adding that capacity utilisation of the units was 80-90 per cent before the ban was imposed in March and the products were exported across the country.

The federation has represented to the Union ministries of textile, MSME and Health demanding removal of export restrictions.

“The government should allow exports of spunbond non-woven fabric and 3-ply surgical masks without any restrictions, while certified manufacturers should be allowed to freely export N95 masks,” the federation said.

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Published on July 28, 2020
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