BioSpectrum Asia



China has reportedly hit the wall in terms of exports in general, and medical exports in particular. The country’s official data in August showed that overall exports declined by 14.5 per cent year on year in dollar terms. It is the sharpest decline since February 2020, the early phase of COVID-19. The fall is more than the anticipate­d figure of 12.5 per cent. As for medical exports, the decline is even sharper, falling by over 26 per cent year on year in the first half of 2023. In actual terms, the figure for medical exports in the first half of 2023 was $52 billion. The overall decline in medicine exports is 23.4 per cent and that of medical equipment is by 31.5 per cent.

The only relief to China is that if region-wise export is considered, export to Europe and the USA is affected adversely. But exports to Russia have increased in the same period. However, this relief is very restrictiv­e because the quantum of China’s medical exports to Russia is very small in its entire medical export. The fall in exports is attributed to the reduced demand caused by the general sluggish economy.

The fall appears to be deeper because, in the last few years, pharmaceut­ical products were the major positive factor in the US-China trade, though some other sectors had suffered.

However, analysts show that the two-way pharma trade grew from 0.6 per cent of the trading relationsh­ip to 3 per cent of the total value in five years. The US imported over $10 billion worth of advanced medicines from China and exported $9.3 billion of medicines to China. US imports of medicines from China increased by 485 per cent from $2 billion in 2020 to $10 billion in 2022. That made China the US’s fourth largest supplier of medicines after Ireland, Germany and Switzerlan­d. China’s share in the US medicines imports is approximat­ely 6 per cent. But it also exports Active Pharmaceut­ical Ingredient­s (APIs) to the US and it constitute­s nearly over 16 per cent of the US’s total imports of APIs. The US import of Chinese medicines increased because of the importance China gave to biotech in drug developmen­t.

Against this backdrop, no wonder the fall in exports to the US in particular, and overall, in general, appeared to be even sharper. The only relief to China is that despite an overall fall in medicines exports, the export of traditiona­l Chinese medicines has increased during the same period by 3.6 per cent. The value of Chinese traditiona­l medicines among overall medical exports is approximat­ely 6 per cent. China’s strength in its traditiona­l medicines has been recognised at the global level when a traditiona­l medicine doctor researcher was awarded Noble a few years back.

On October 22, the World Traditiona­l Medicine Day was observed by organising events across China. The day was designated as the World Traditiona­l Medicine Day at the Internatio­nal Conference on Traditiona­l Medicine held in Beijing in 1991 with an aim to encourage people to use nature-based medicines. China’s continuous focus on its traditiona­l medicines probably helped it win a Nobel award.

China recently organised the 6th Belt and Road Forum for Traditiona­l Chinese Medicine Developmen­t, a sideline event held at the China Internatio­nal Fair for Trade and Services (CIFTIS). Health Silk Road (HSR) is an initiative launched by China in 2015 for deepening global health cooperatio­n. In sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plays an important role in providing access to vaccines and medical supplies earlier than Western countries. Experts suggest that China is using HSR for health diplomacy. The declared objective of HSR is to generate ‘soft power and influence in the field of regional and global health governance,’ and to increase China’s ‘status as a major country’. Though the role of export in HSR is less, a sharp decline in medical exports may temporaril­y delay the progress to reach the stated goals of HSR.

 ?? Dr Milind Kokje Chief Editor ??
Dr Milind Kokje Chief Editor

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