Lift curbs on exports of spunbond non-woven fabric, NWFI urges govt

 The Non Woven Federation of India (NWFI) on Tuesday urged the government to remove the restrictions on exports of spunbond non-woven fabrics and various types of masks, asserting that the curbs are hurting the domestic industry.
NWFI also sought removal of restrictions on exports of 3-ply surgical and N95 masks.

In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) in March had prohibited exports of textile raw materials for masks and coveralls, and surgical or disposable masks in March.

However, on July 13, the DGFT allowed exports of non-woven fabric other than 25-70 GSM (grams per square metre), while continuing to prohibit exports of fabric of 25-70 GSM, the federation said.

"Majority of the demand is for spunbond non-woven 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," said NWFI President Suresh Patel.

He said manufacturers can make fabric of GSM ranging from 10 to 200 in the same plant with change in the process speed.

The federation said that if there are concerns about the availability of fabric for PPE kits and masks after lifting of the restrictions, 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.

"However, there should not be any restrictions on the export of fabric based on particular GSM," said Patel.

The domestic consumption of spunbond non-woven fabric for medical application such as PPE kit, 3-ply masks and N95 masks is around 5,200 tonnes per month, which is 12.6 per cent of the total production capacity of 41,350 tonnes.

Similarly, capacity utilisation of 3-ply surgical masks and N95 masks is just 18 per cent of the total monthly installed capacity of 79.89 crore pieces.

"These figures show that the country 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 NWFI Vice-President Anshumali Jain.

Jain added that before the ban was imposed in March, the capacity utilisation was 90 per cent, and the products were being exported across the world.

"We are losing market share in the international market because of the curbs," said Jain.

The spunbond non-woven industry directly employs about 6.5-7 lakh people, while the indirect employment is estimated at more than 20 lakh.

The federation noted that the installed capacity is continuously rising due to addition of new facilities, even as fabrics like cotton, polyester, nylon, SMS, SSMMS, meltblown, and spunlace fabrics are also now being used as raw materials for making PPE coveralls and masks.

In separate letters to Textile Minister Smriti Irani, MSME Minister Nitin Gadkari and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, the federation demanded that the export restrictions be lifted.

"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.

It demanded an increase of quota and relaxation of the criterion of selection based on various quality certifications, and also demanded that import duty on all types of masks and PPE coveralls be reinstated.

"Weak domestic demand and ban on exports of non-woven fabric and masks have put the survival of the whole industry at stake. These measures will go a long way in supporting the industry, and safeguarding lakhs of jobs across the country that are at stake now," said NWFI General Secretary Nikesh Shah.

According to him, major problems being faced by the industry on account of the ban include under-utilisation of production capacity, loss of international market share and loss of foreign exchange, among others.

"Due to the anti-China sentiment, there is a good overseas demand and opportunity that we can tap right now," he said adding that currently, the domestic spunbond industry is losing its export market share to much smaller countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

"The spunbond fabric industry since mid to end of April has been in an absolute slump. There was a very brief spike in the demand of spunbond fabric mostly in March," Jain said.

He said that 80 per cent of the capacity for producing masks is lying idle, translating into revenue losses in terms of potential business of exporting N95 masks to the tune of Rs 360 crore per month and Rs 400 crore potential revenue loss on fabric.

The federation represents regional associations of about 1,000 spunbond non-woven fabric manufacturers and its convertors (finished products) in India.
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