The pharmaceutical industry of Bangladesh enjoys a well-earned reputation in both domestic and foreign markets. This lucrative sector makes around Tk1,100 annually by exporting pharmaceutical products to over 150 countries across the globe.
Bangladesh, however, is spending a fortune every year on importing 97 percent of the raw materials required by this industry.
According to the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry sources, the pharmaceutical industry spent $600 million or Tk5,000 crores for importing Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) in the 2018-19 fiscal year.
To bring down the expenses related to medicine raw material imports, the organisation placed a strong demand for the speedy completion of the API Industrial Park being constructed in Munshiganj.
Speakers placed the demand at a seminar titled "Prospects and Challenges of API Industry in Bangladesh" held at the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry's conference room on Saturday.
Present at the programme, pharmaceutical industry owners proposed increasing investment in research and development, along with the development of the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients sector.
Speaking at the event, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Osama Taseer said, "Our severe dependence on imports for necessary raw materials is one of the major hurdles faced by the pharmaceutical industry.
"Currently, local companies only produce 3 percent of the required Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients. Locally produced raw materials cut costs by 5-10 percent, compared to imports. An API Industry will also bring additional lucrative opportunities in the pharmaceutical sector," he added.
Adding that an API Industry is vital to the competitive capability of Bangladesh's pharmaceutical industry, Bangladesh Investment Development Authority Executive Chairman Sirazul Islam said, "Bangladesh will graduate from a least developed country to a middle income country status in 2027.
"We will lose many of the export facilities we are currently enjoying. If an API Industry is not built by 2027, Bangladesh will lose its competitive edge."
At the event, former professor of Jahangirnagar University Dr Robiul Islam presented a keynote speech on the API Industry.
According to the keynote, the global pharmaceutical market is witnessing a 14-15 percent growth per year. The domestic market revenue has exceeded Tk20,000 crores, but the acquisition of raw materials remains a serious issue.
Bangladesh imports around 97.3 percent of the total required Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients per year. Local pharmaceutical companies have a 98 percent share of the domestic market and there is a strong possibility for further expanding the export sector.
However, it is currently difficult for the local industry to compete in the global export market after importing raw materials from countries such as India, China and Vietnam. The speedy completion of the API Industrial Park is very necessary at this point.
Discussing the possible benefits of the API Industry, the keynote mentioned that after completion of the industrial park in Gozaria, Munshiganj, Bangladesh will be able to produce cheap raw materials for medicine instead of relying on expensive imports.
The industry will also create a large number of employment opportunities. The government has offered full tax exemption, including income tax and value added tax, on all forms of investment in the API Industrial Park until 2032.
However, several people involved with the sector have commented that an API Industry will not be enough to free the pharmaceutical industry from ongoing problems.
Dr Sheikh Maksudur Rahman, director (API Project) of pharmaceutical giant Acme Laboratories said, "Lack of research and development is a larger problem than the absence of an API Industry.
Expressing his doubts over the API Industrial Park, he added, "An international level pharmaceutical company needs 15-20 acres of land to set up a factory. But no company has been allotted more than 10 acres of land at the under-construction industrial park."
The government took the initiative for the construction of an API Industry Park for 42 pharmaceutical companies in 2012.
The park spans 200 acres and important infrastructure such as plots, landfills, roads, drainage systems, electricity transmission lines, power sub-station and water supply lines have already been built and installed.
The construction of a Central Effluent Treatment Plant for waste management has also begun at the industry park.
The government has allotted plots to 27 pharmaceutical companies including Square, Beximco, Incepta and Acme. Five to ten acres of land have been allotted to these companies, but there are concerns that many other companies will get less land at the park.