Exciting prospects of earning billions from medicine exports
Indeed, the foreign currency earning prospects of the pharmaceutical sector are considered to be no less than the readymade garment (RMG) which is presently the single biggest export earning sector of the country. With steady promotional activities favouring the local pharmaceutical industries, these in the near future may overtake the RMG sector in export earnings. This is the view of experts.
Reportedly, the country earned the equivalent of 1.3 billion Taka from medicine export in fiscal year 2004-5, Taka 1.84 billion in 2005-6 and Taka 1.94 billion in 2006-7. More than taka 5 billion worth of pharmaceutical products have been exported so far in the current year. From the way medicine export from Bangladesh is picking up, it is projected that export earnings from this sector can rise to some 50 billion Taka in the medium term. The higher earnings show that the pharmaceutical industry has been doing progressively better ; an upward progression in the export of medicines is noted . This is no doubt heartening news in the backdrop of the pressing need to diversify export products and earn more from exports to add to the foreign currency reserve .
World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements have created vast opportunities for Bangladeshi medicine producers to substantially increase medicine exports from this country between 2006 to 20016. Bangladesh can export medicines as a least developed country to 49 countries under the WTO agreement without fulfilling patent requirements. Its neigbouring and competing countries – Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India – do not have this facility that limit their exports in this field. A Bangladeshi company was invited to export to European markets in the present year. Opportunities for exporting medicines to Myanmar on a large scale are there. The demand for our medicines in the Middle Eastern and African countries are rising fast.
However, policies of successive governments from now on will have to be in the right direction to keep on encouraging this potential sector. If supports not in words but in deeds are extended to it, then it will soon emerge as a very thriving one tapping the vast international market and earning bounties in foreign currencies.
The government should immediately recognise the merit of accepting and working on the proposals that have been made by the Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industries (BAPI). The demands are fair and realistic to truly promote the sector. The BAPI has demanded giving of cash incentives to export-oriented pharmaceutical industries. Such incentives are being given to other export-oriented sectors and there is no reason for the pharmaceutical industries with so much export possibilities not to enjoy the same. The pharmaceutical industries would be fully deserving such incentives as the government officially accorded recognition to them as a thrust sector. But matching this declaration the cash incentives have not followed. Incentives ranging from 10 to 30 per cent are enjoyed by medicine exporters from India, Sri Lanka and China.
The other major demands is for the establishment of a government operated central testing laboratory for export- oriented pharmaceutical industries. The laboratory can be very useful in strengthening the reputation of local pharmaceutical products abroad through dependable quality certification. The BAPI has also urged the establishment of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) plants. The creation of such a plant will likely much increase the value-addition and competitiveness of locally owned pharmaceutical industries. The making of medicines locally after importing the raw materials adds to costs and time. Both can be substantially reduced and the longer term growth and security of the sector can be ensured by building the API plants.
The plan to set up an API producing park has been very recently adopted in a meeting of the National Economic Council. Thus, the way has been cleared for the establishment of this pivotal facility at Munshiganj in Dhaka. After its establishment, a number of local pharmaceutical companies are expected to invest some Taka 20 billion in it to set up plants to manufacture pharmaceutical ingredients. It now all depends upon how swiftly the government moves to implement the plan. The same involves getting plots ready for hand over to the pharma industries which are bent on investing in this API park. Not only getting the plots ready, government should set up various required supporting infrastructures inside the park for the companies to be enabled to establish and run the API plants there at the earliest. If the government corporation which would be developing the API project does its work in due time, the companies to invest in it can be expected to start producing APIs within only six months of getting their plots.
Considerable hazards or bureaucratic obstacles are confronted by the local pharmaceutical companies in sending samples abroad, to station or appoint representatives in foreign countries, in sending money for the purpose and doing other promotional activities. Government is expected to sort out these problems. Our foreign missions abroad should be directed to play a truly energetic role in searching markets and engaging in promotional activities for the pharmaceutical sector. The patent law of 1933 still remains though its suitable amendments are considered as necessary by exporters in the field to go for wider export activities.
Besides, a number of major exporters in the sector are now facing very great problems in maintaining their activities.
For example, Beximco Pharma, is considered as a flagship enterprise in this sector. But its export momentum has dwindled down notably as a consequence of the anticorruption drive. A number of other medicine exporting companies are facing similar problems. Government should take steps promptly for these companies to sustain in their full operations.