Pharmaceutical exports from Bangladesh rise sharply
In the first six months of the current 2015-16 fiscal, foreign exchange earnings from Bangladesh-made life saving drugs has touched the Tk 3 billion mark.
The WTO has granted Least Developed Countries relaxation on intellectual property rights until 2033 and two Bangladesh companies have secured permission from the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA).
This has encouraged Bangladesh's pharmaceuticals industry to gear up for boosting exports with renewed enthusiasm.
Exporters and analysts say if the US market opens up to Bangladesh-made drugs, export incomes would multiply several times.
That has helped drive up the value of pharma stocks in Bangladesh's bourses despite an overall downward drop of other stocks.
Former Bangladesh Bank governor Mohammed Farashuddin says it will be possible to export medicines worth $10 billion to the US market alone if the government provides better policy support and incentives.
Square Pharmaceuticals and Beximco Pharma gained the FDA approval in June last year.
“Incepta Pharmaceuticals is expected to get that opportunity soon. The other companies will follow suit gradually,” Farashuddin adds.
Shawkat Haider, General Manager of the business development division of Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd, says they have taken all necessary preparations to start exporting medicines within 4-5 months.
“We will enter the US market with medicines for blood pressure.”
Square Pharmaceuticals Limited plans to hit the new market in a few months and the Incepta Pharmaceuticals Limited has already set up a separate factory with a view to exporting medicines to the US from the next year.
Made-in-Bangladesh medicines are currently exported to 90 countries in Europe and Middle East.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau, Bangladesh’s export earnings in the first half of the current fiscal year stands at $16.8 billion, of which $37.9 million (about Tk 30 billion) was from export of medicines.
The amount is 18 percent higher than that of the same period in the previous year, and equal to the total earnings from medicine export in FY 2009-10.
Bangladeshi medicine exporters brought home $72.6 million in the last fiscal year.
To further boost the earnings, the manufacturers have increased investment. The import of capital machineries in the sector rose by 25 percent between July and October this fiscal year.
Bangladesh may reap maximum benefits from the WTO’s relaxation, say executives in the pharmaceutical industry.
The country can manufacture and sell medicines for another 17 years without spending anything on intellectual property rights. The people will get usually expensive drugs for critical diseases including cancer, arthritis and asthma much cheaper, they say.
An injection that costs Tk 300,000 abroad will be available in Bangladesh for Tk 60,000 only, says Abdul Muqtadir, leader of Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industries.
If the opportunity is properly utilised, people from abroad will come to Bangladesh for treatment which will boost medical tourism, he believes.
The internal medicine market size of Bangladesh is more than Tk 120 billion and over 100,000 people are directly involved in the sector.
Globe Pharmaceuticals Chairman Harunur Rashid thinks the country's pharmaceuticals sector is headed for better days.
“We have a lot of expectations from the industry. Medicine export will hopefully increase 10 times in the next seven to eight years.”
Justifying the claim, he says people in the past used to buy medicines from China. Now that China is busy with its internal demand, consumers are preferring India-made drugs and they would turn to Bangladesh-made drugs soon in a big way.
“Nowhere in the world are medicines so cheap as in Bangladesh.”
This industry has the potential to earn more foreign currency than the garment sector, Rashid thinks.