Utilise textile industry’s capacity to mass produce PPE amid surge in demand, says economist
17 Apr 2020
Mass manufacture of personal protective equipment (PPE) makes sense in light of the surge in demand for such wear for healthcare workers in the fight against Covid-19 in Malaysia, said Bank Islam chief economist Dr Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid.
According to reports, Malaysia requires 59 million units monthly and as of Monday, there were only two week’s worth of PPE supply left to be distributed to all hospitals in the country.
Mohd Afzanizam said Malaysia has the economies of scale in respect of the textile industry and it is time the government had a look at the industry for its capability to produce PPE.
“Anecdotally speaking, we have seen our local fashion designers volunteering themselves to prepare the PPE although safety standards have to be thoroughly checked as well.
“Apart from that, the government has to look at tariff and non-tariff measures, which may need to be reviewed and reassessed during the public health crisis we are currently facing,” he told Bernama.
He said re-looking at the existing structure of tariff and non tariff measures will also help facilitate the international trade for medical supplies, including PPE.
A report by the Global Alert Team of the University of St Gallen, Switzerland, noted that as of March 21, 46 export curbs on medical supplies had been introduced by 54 governments since the start of 2020. Of those, 33 were announced in the month of March itself, indicating the rapid spread of new trade limits across the globe.
“So it is also high time for our government to establish a more effective dialogue with the relevant countries in order to ensure medical supplies procurement related to Covid-19 can be expedited in the most efficient and timely manner,” he said.
Citing a Khazanah Research Institute paper titled “Trade During A Pandemic”, Mohd Afzanizam said Malaysia imported US$2.4 billion, or RM9.5 billion, worth of medical supplies in 2018, which included face masks, disinfectants and medical devices used to diagnose and treat patients.
As for protective garments and the like, he gave the breakdown of Malaysian imports in 2018, which included textile face masks (RM190.5 million), gas masks (RM40.35 million), protective spectacles and goggles (RM21.85 million), plastic face shields, plastic gloves, and protective garments made from plastic (RM58.6 million).
Malaysia also imported surgical rubber gloves (RM75.41 million), other rubber gloves (RM168.67 million), knitted or crocheted gloves (RM57.51 million), textile gloves (RM21.31 million), disposable hair nets (RM71.04 million), protective garments for surgical/medical use made up of felt or non-wovens (RM28.99 million) and other protective garments (RM13.69 million).
Meanwhile, the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) said some of its member companies are already in the process of modifying production or in the planning stages to diversify their operations to manufacture medical supplies, including PPE.
Its president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai said the move is part of efforts by manufacturers to meet the supply of medical equipment following the surge in demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“FMM has 39 member companies which are producing PPE and sanitisers, which include face masks, rubber gloves, protective wear, hand sanitisers and disinfectants,” he said.
However, he highlighted that these manufacturers are now facing problems caused by insufficient supply of raw materials and parts and components to produce these medical supplies.
Therefore, he said, the announcement by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) on March 28 to remove import duties and sales tax for denatured alcohol was timely as it has helped the Malaysian pro
He noted that MOF last month announced the removal of duties and taxes for face masks.
To ensure local face mask producers can compete with importers, FMM is also calling on the government to grant exemption on import duty and sales tax on all inputs for face mask, which include the PP non-woven materials for the three-ply mask, metal nose wire and elastic earloop, he said.
These raw materials, on which a 20 per cent import duty and 10 per cent sales tax are imposed, are mainly imported from China, India, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates due to insufficient supply locally, he said.
Soh added that FMM is also working closely with the International Trade and Industry Ministry through the Malaysian Investment Development Authority and Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation to facilitate its member companies into diversifying production and exports market to ensure they meet the growing demand for these essential goods.