To develop more effective export strategies that yield better and sustainable results, the Bangladesh pharmaceutical manufacturers need to continually monitor and assess their performance in terms of sales volume, changes in product demand and sales trends for each major destination country where they have been able to put their footsteps. Rather than continually looking for new markets as it appears from analysing their promotion and expansion strategy and looking at their changing list of export countries, they must focus on a few selected markets and try their best to consolidate market positions in these already penetrated markets. These will bring higher returns for their efforts and investment, improve their business efficiency, develop country specific knowledge, enrich product promotion expertise, develop competitive advantage over others, and all of these will help make their learning curves steeper.
By doing business in the same country over time, they will know more about the country, its demographics and pressing health issues, understand better its pharmaceutical market needs, identify the right business partners, and develop professional networks, build and nurture business confidence, and forge relationship and trust with the healthcare professionals and prescribers and ultimately win the hearts of the people of that country-- their final consumers. Growing in an already accessed market is easier and cost-effective as companies learn from their business experience, find better ways to cut costs, and reap better from the burgeoning scale of operation.
For a comprehensive appraisal of export and import portfolio of finished pharmaceutical products of Bangladesh, putting both figures together provides a clear picture of the comparative trends and patterns. Both export and import have been steadily moving upward since 2015 as Figure-1 suggests. However, in terms of value and growth, import appears to have overtaken exports. Apart from 2018, the linear trend of import value looks healthier and stronger in contrast to export trend which has moved upward but relatively slowly.
The important question is how can the local manufactures narrow this steady and rather widening gap? Is there a way for them to rein in the escalating import figure? At the same time, with this slow pace of exports, how long will it take for Bangladesh to reach a serious milestone like $500 million or 1 billion a year so that the country can finally get recognised even as a midsize export player in the global pharmaceutical market?
The figures show that the export value has grown only by about US$ 10-30 million dollars from year to year since 2015. After taking into consideration the fact that the international pharmaceutical market has been growing at an enormous pace with the growing world population and almost all the competitor countries are making steady and big gains in exports, Bangladesh's export growth can be interpreted as quite flat--particularly, if the figures are adjusted for inflation.
Regarding the current export destination portfolio analysis, the top twenty countries Bangladesh exports to include Sri Lanka, Myanmar, USA, Philippines, Kenya, Cambodia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Slovenia, Nepal, Denmark, Somalia, South Africa, Peru, Great Britain, Nigeria, Australia, Yemen, Mauritius and Costa Rica. A closer examination of data reveals additional insight that Bangladesh is not among the list of top countries from where Yemen, Mauritius, Costa Rica, Philippine, Somalia, Nigeria, and Vietnam import their pharmaceuticals from. That means even though they are top 20 export destinations from Bangladesh's point of view, from their perspective, Bangladesh has not made it to the top 20 countries from where they import their medicines. In fact, for only 6 countries [Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Cambodia and Kenya] Bangladesh has made a position for itself (table shows that Bangladesh is the 4th largest import country for Sri Lanka and ranks 15th for Kenya, for example). Should Bangladesh stay focused and attempt to make its position stronger only in these selected few countries? Continuous and random search for export destinations has clearly not worked for the local manufacturers.
These data and countrywide status should not be taken lightly by the local manufacturers for their strategy re-setting since it takes so much time and effort to register products and penetrate a market; a slow, less promising, or negative growth nullify all efforts, investments as well as company's motivation. Unless new, and innovative strategies are adapted, the export future do not look promising for Bangladesh's pharma industry.
Hasnat M. Alamgir is a Professor of Public Health.