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The Export Strategy Pharmaceuticals 2023-2027 is a great step for the much-needed development of this important sector, and a good step is never too late. The identification of problems is spot on and candid in most cases. However, I would like to make the following critical comments regarding the strategy document. These issues shall impact the intended outcomes in significant ways.
Formation of Pharmaceutical Sector Specific Council
A pharmaceutical sector specific council has been proposed which shall comprise of 18 government offices, ministries, and agencies. There is no representation of industry. All these offices have done from nothing to very little for promotion of pharmaceutical exports from Pakistan so far. What different will they do now? Secondly, collecting bureaucrats and officials from 18 offices is next to impossible. The meetings shall not take place. Thirdly, without the presence of the key stake holder, pharma industry, the discussion shall be worthless.
This has been modeled on the pattern of Pharmexcil, the Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council of India which was established in 2004 and has done great work to promote pharma exports from India. Pharmexcil comprises of 23 members, 18 of which are pharma industries owners; only 5 government officers are included. The chairman is also from the industry and is elected by the members for a period of two years. The members represent large industries having business from one billion INR and upwards. India is already exporting pharmaceuticals worth US$ 25 billion, and part of credit goes to Pharmexcil also.
Looking at the above comparison, it may be safely inferred that the proposed council in Pakistan shall not achieve much.
Stakeholders Assessment and Influence
Eleven stakeholders were identified, and the participants involved in the consultative process assessed their resources, capability/capacity, and influence. Seven ‘Most Influential’ stakeholders – MNHSRC, Pharmacy Council, Provincial Health Departments, Ministry of Commerce, DRAP, FBR and TDAP – all were assessed to have high resources but mediocre to poor capacity, yet heavy influence all the same. These are all government departments. This is a huge area of concern which has not been addressed adequately. It is a common problem with the government institutions; they lack capability but wield great power. Because of this anomaly, the progress is stalled, corruption rules the day, and there are inordinate delays. Within this system, some people manipulate to gather multiple portfolios in their self, become even more powerful, and keep the whole industry as a hostage unto themselves. This is the situation in the most influential stakeholder’s case; few DRAP officials have unusual clout, and they do what they want to, and when they want to.
Strategy framework is a not just a recommendation, it is a document that has been agreed by all stakeholders to achieve certain targets. It would have been better if some concrete measures had been proposed for improving the capability and rationalizing influence had been proposed.
Quantification of Targets
I don’t know the precise reason, but the targets have not been quantified. Same is true for timelines which are in years, without any specific dates.
Pakistan Pharma exports are around US$160 million now and had been fluctuating due to various factors including government policies. Afghanistan is a major export destination but almost all export is informal and undocumented. The money is paid in Pakistan in local currency and the goods are dispatched to Afghanistan by road through Torkham, Chaman, or Khost border. While it is export, but it is not counted, and no one can tell the exact figure.
Let us stick to $160 million figure for now, the Strategic Plan does not fix any target till 2027 in terms of US dollars. Unless the outcome is quantified, the input cannot be determined or supplied. What if after lot of effort, the exports rise nominally?
There is no quantification of export markets either. Pakistan Pharma exports are limited to parts of East Africa, West Africa, North Africa, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia. The reach is patchy and limited to those countries who are much less regulated. Plant inspection has become a norm, but it is still manageable. Another issue is that protectionism is rising everywhere as their own local industry grows. No roadmap has been provided for covering geographies, where to go next, where to expand, and how to do it. Since there is no target for geographical reach, there is no idea about how much the exports can be reached. The PPMA, during the recent Pharmaceutical Export Service Award, has declared an ambitious figure which is plain rhetoric, and therefore may not be reproduced. The summary is that we are planning to run but do not know where to, and to what end.
There is an elaborate chart showing activities to be done in years from 2023 to 2027, so all timelines are in the frame of years which is too long. Even otherwise, some measures appear to be overstretched. There are two types of activities: reforms and projects. Projects mean designing the project, not its implementation; reforms mean changing some policies, procedures, and processes. What is quite obvious is that the government departments or agencies are dragging their feet as much as they can. Some examples can be seen here.
- Amend drug pricing policy 2018 – planned over 2023-2024-2025
- Update National Essential Drugs List – planned over 2025-2026-2027
- Rapidly approve national medicine policy with a five-year action plan – planned over 2023-2024
- Create a dedicated team/division within DRAP to conduct quality control audits – planned over 2023-2024-2025
The list has 11 objectives and 42 activities spread over 5 years. It is an ambitious undertaking but with long timelines, the impetus shall be lost.
Omission of Few Key Players
Few key players in pharma exports are conspicuously absent from the list of participants in public-private consultations.
Getz Pharma is number #1 exporter from Pakistan. They were also the first to raise local sales teams in importing countries and start proper marketing of their products to customers. They have the largest export volume also. Their presence could lend more credibility to these discussions.
Nabiqasim Pharma has been among the earliest to venture into international markets. They are exporting their products to a large geography. Their wisdom would add value.
Indus Pharma has been exploring international markets for many years. They were the first to showcase their products in CPhI exhibition worldwide. They could also contribute positively to the discussions.
The initiative of formulating a pharma export specific strategy is highly commendable. However, reservations are in place which may affect the outcomes negatively.
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