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International Business – Pakistan has a fairly developed Pharma Industry and our domestic requirement is easily fulfilled by domestic industry. We only need to import those medicines which cannot be manufactured here owing to technology reasons. Similar situation prevails in India and Bangladesh.
Many other countries around us are dependent on import of medicines to varying degrees. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives in South Asia, CIS countries from Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan, Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam among ASEAN countries and almost all countries of Africa are importing drugs from developed and developing countries. India is taking great advantage of this opportunity and exporting medicines to all corners of the world. India has additional advantage that it is exporting to SRA countries, most notably US, in huge amounts. Bangladesh is also following suit. Pakistan is lagging behind in this area.
Pharmaceutical export was never in the government focus until 1990s, and for obvious reasons. MNCs had major share of local market and they were not allowed by their parent offices to export from Pakistan. Local Pharma was not up to it. Therefore, government efforts focused on export of textile, sports goods and surgical goods. These commodities brought big foreign exchange.
Export Promotion Bureau – EPB was the government body for enhancing exports from Pakistan. EPB was run by CSS officers mostly from Commerce &Trade Group. They encouraged local industry and connected them with foreign buyers. The usual pace, style and tactics that are hallmark of government institutions was seen here also. Performance was never a priority but fortunately for Pakistan and EPB, the business came flowing in due to quotas and market situation etc. We exported Rice and Fruit, Yarn and Textile, surgical and sports goods but were never motivated to explore Pharma exports. Some local companies pursued export business on their own, without any support, and did open some markets.
Around 2003-4, EPB was converted to Trade Development Authority – TDAP. It became autonomous and tried to get free from the shackles of government officers which It was never been able to do successfully. Tariq Ikram, who was previously CEO of Reckitt & Coleman was appointed as first CEO of TDAP. He came from corporate management, had an exposure of Pharma and allegedly had support of the then President, General Pervez Musharraf. TDAP became active instantly and it made an exclusive cell for Pharma exports.
TDAP organized a huge expo at Karachi which showcased Pakistan industries. It invited many potential buyers from across the world at its own expense and things started happening.
TDAP formation was extremely significant for Pharma exports from Pakistan. Pharmaceutical companies were included in trade delegations regularly. Delegations were sent regularly and frequently to many countries. The exhibitions in other countries were focused to exhibit Pakistani products through a dedicated Pakistan Pavilion.
At home, several packages were announced for local Pharma companies to enhance exports. Cost sharing of registration/inspection expenses, funding for BMR (Balancing, Modernization and Renovation) of manufacturing units, payment for sales teams appointed in other countries were very important developments. Pharma exports grew rapidly and soon a vision for a billion-dollar export target of Pharma was chalked out.
Tariq Ikram left at the end of his tenure and was replaced by a retired bureaucrat (alas). Most retired persons do not have much motivation; retired bureaucrats are mostly epitome of sluggishness. Almost all progress made so far was reversed, facilitation policies were overtly or covertly withdrawn, delegations became few and far between. There was another change at the top, another retired bureaucrat. He was from Commerce & Trade Group and got to work actively for the promotion of export trade. Unfortunately, he became a victim of internal politics and left very early.
TDAP today is doing very little for Pharma industry. The exports dropped rapidly and came down to around 100 million dollars, and the vision of billion-dollar was lost completely.
Pharma Industry is facing other serious challenges in export as well. The local industry in most countries is coming up and there is a wave of protectionism guised as additional conditions for entering the markets. Plant inspections are mandatory, CTD formats are mandatory, and testing of imported drugs is mandatory. Government support is virtually missing.
India formed a government body PHARMEXCIL – Pharma Export Council many years ago. It is an exclusive Pharma-focus organization which provides technical, documentary, regulatory, and financial support for export of Indian pharmaceuticals. They facilitate for exhibitions and for market information of other countries. Most importantly, it is exclusive body for Pharma industry. India boasts 24 billion dollars exports as opposed to our insignificant 100 million dollars.
Good news is that local Pharma, on its own, is waking up to the potential of international business. They have opened international business departments, hired staff, providing support and facilitating traveling. More companies are going to many more places and exploring the markets. It is a very healthy development despite utter lack of government support. We wish the industry luck; they will need quite a bit of it.
To be continued……