Bangladesh is a promising pharmaceutical products exporter in the world. During the last six years the annual export volume has almost doubled. The figure was $136 million in 2019-2020 fiscal year (See Figure 01). At the same period, the individual yearly growth rates in the export market were higher than the domestic market.
In 2018-2019 export grew by 25%, which was amazing. Due to quality standards, competitive pricings, geographical location and positive business attitude, the country is gaining attention from every corner of the world.
As a developing country Bangladesh has a successful history of exporting medicines which might play a major role in this sector in the coming days. Currently, local companies are exporting their products to 151 countries of the world, which may be a benchmark for many others. Almost a dozen of manufacturing facilities are meeting the standard of regulated markets, which is tough to achieve. A few companies have already left giant footprints in US and UK markets and are expanding their reach each day; around 1,000 products are going to be registered in the international market for subsequent export, which will unlock huge potential.
At present, Sri Lanka is the number one destination for exported pharmaceutical products from Bangladesh. Almost 15% of total pharmaceutical export earnings of Bangladesh comes from Sri Lanka. Presently the country imports an equivalent of $ 20.5 million worth of pharmaceutical 'finished goods' from Bangladesh, which is 7.4% of their total import. Bangladesh has an opportunity to expand the export figure there.
Myanmar is a long-standing destination for exporting pharmaceutical products from Bangladesh. They import a total $ 435 million worth of pharmaceutical goods every year, where Bangladesh's contribution is 4.53%. It needs to be mentioned here that 14.5% (which is the second highest) of total pharmaceutical export earnings of Bangladesh comes from Myanmar.
About 11% of total pharmaceutical export earnings of Bangladesh come from the USA, which is 15.19 million in US dollars. The USA is the number one generic drug importer in the world and every year they import pharmaceutical products equivalent to $92.5 billion. Therefore, it is clear that the US market is huge, to say the least.
Every year, the Philippines imports $1377 million worth of pharmaceutical products. Bangladesh exports around 1% of that.
Also Kenya is one of the top five destinations for exporting pharmaceutical goods from Bangladesh. Almost 2% of their pharmaceutical products are imported from Bangladesh with a value equivalent to $ 8.5 million.
Bangladeshi companies are meeting 3% of total import requirements of pharmaceutical goods of Cambodia which is equivalent to $ 6.1 million per annum.
Afghanistan and Somalia import a significant amount of pharmaceutical products from Bangladesh, almost 5% to 6% of their individual import requirements is served by Bangladeshi companies.
The UK is one of the top five destinations for exporting pharmaceutical items in the world. (See Table 01) Bangladesh's export to the UK is very small and it is around 0.01% of the UK's total import. However, few companies are trying to explore and expand their businesses in the UK, which has a lot of potential.
Nepal, South Africa, Australia, Denmark, Nigeria, Jamaica, Yemen and many other countries are also importing medicines from Bangladesh but compared to their total imports, it is still small. There are opportunities to explore these markets.
China and India are the main competitors of Bangladesh in exporting pharmaceutical products. Due to their own Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) production facilities they are in a more advantageous position; however, Bangladesh will be able to minimise this at a reasonable level once her own API park at Munshiganj starts running in full swing. In order to expedite pharmaceutical exports, Bangladesh needs to concentrate on building a reputed Contract Research Organization (CRO) as it is an utmost priority for quality endorsement. A CRO is a company that offers support to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries in the form of research services outsourced on a contract basis. CROs that specialise in clinical trial services can offer their clients the expertise of moving a new drug from its conception to FDA (The United States' Food and Drug Administration)/The European Medicines Agency (EMA) marketing approval, without the drug sponsor having to maintain a staff for these services.
Pharmaceutical product registration for the export market is a very lengthy, expensive and hazardous process. To minimise this, combined efforts of entrepreneurs, governments of both importing and exporting countries and other stakeholders are required.
Although our growth rate is fantastic, the volume is still small compared to our rivals. To increase the volume of export we need to focus on regulated markets like the USA, the UK, the EU, Australia etc. In this regard, some more local companies need to set up world-class facilities.
Currently health, commerce, finance and foreign affairs ministries are playing important roles in expanding pharmaceutical exports from Bangladesh; however, considering the capacities of the local companies and enormous opportunities, this needs to be further strengthened.
Dr Md Abu Zafor Sadek is M Pharm, MBA, Doctor of Business Administration (IBA-DU), and is currently serving as the marketing manager at a pharmaceutical company. He is also a former short-term consultant at the World Bank. He can be reached at email@example.com
Disclaimer: The explanations given and views expressed in this article are the author's own and TBS does not necessarily endorse nor support those.