Even as India grapples with an acute shortage of ventilators and has put out urgent orders to fill the gap, it continues to charge one of the highest duties globally on the critical medical equipment that is needed to support seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

A report released by the WTO on Friday says India charges an average applied import tariff of 10 percent on ventilators and respirators, as against an global average tariff of 3.3 percent.

Indian duties on ventilators is four percentage points behind Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, which charge an average applied import tariff of 14 percent, the WTO report said. As many as 67 WTO members including EU, US, Republic of Korea and Switzerland provide duty free access to ventilators.

While there is no clear estimate on the number of ventilators present in India at the moment, some industry organisations peg the figure at 40,000, mostly in the private sector. Global health experts believe that as much as 5 percent of COVID-19 patients may require ventilator support due to onset pf respiratory distress.

The government, which admits of acute shortage of ventilators in the country, has placed an order of 10,000 units through HLL Lifecare - a PSU based in Thiruvananthapuram. In addition, central government owned power equipment manufacturer BHEL has been asked to produce 30,000 more ventilators by the health ministry.

The WTO report also pointed out that India also charges a high rate of duty on personal protective products like face masks and visors, which has seen acute shortage amongst frontline health workers dealing with the pandemic in India.

India charges an average applied duty of 12 percent on personal protective products, the WTO said. On critical medical protection accessories like spectacles and visors, half of the 164 WTO members charge a maximum duty of 7.5 percent or less, the WTO report said. On face masks, the average global import tariff stands at 9.1 percent.

According to the analysis done by the Geneva-based trade regulator, imports and exports of medical goods comprising medicines, protective equipment and medical devices stood at $ 2 trillion in 2019, accounting for 5 percent of global trade. Trade in medical products, which are in shortage due to the ongoing global pandemic has been estimated at $597 billion in 2019.