Cooperation in generic drugs can lead to healthier China-India trade relations

By Xiao Xin Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/20 23:33:40

In a testament of greater market opening, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced on Tuesday that China will further slash tariffs and strive to eliminate them entirely for anti-cancer drugs.

The announcement was made during the premier's press conference after the conclusion of the annual legislative session. The move may generate some headwinds for Indian-made generic drugs that some Chinese cancer patients rely on as a much cheaper substitute for brand-name drugs from pharmaceutical multinationals.

But that's not to say that the two countries' overall cooperation in the field of pharmaceuticals has to be affected. The hypothesis still holds true that China's increased imports of pharmaceutical products from India could serve to allay woes among many Chinese people over the poverty caused by the cost of treating deadly diseases. More imports could also cure New Delhi's chronic headache caused by the nation's trade deficits with China.

Considering that many of the imported drugs, seen as more effective in curing cancer and other serious diseases, are yet to be included in the State health insurance scheme, some Chinese cancer patients who cannot afford imported brand-name drugs from Western pharmaceutical giants have sought to buy cheap Indian-made generic versions, either via the internet or through overseas purchasing agents.

If tariffs were cut to zero for much-needed cancer drugs, products from multinationals would become much more affordable, and that would mean medicines made in India - which still trigger safety worries - would become less attractive.

However, most of India's generic drugs haven't gained official approval in the Chinese market, which means that sales of these products in China represent just a fraction of the nation's demand for cost-efficient yet effective generic medicines. So there's still a chance that the greater availability of India's generic drugs, assuming their safety and efficacy can be ensured, will help in cutting healthcare costs in China at large.

What's still missing is an effort to develop China's own generic drug sector, which could draw on India's vast experience. Beyond just importing more generic medicine from India, China could consider ways to cooperate with India in developing its own generic sector. India, for its part, can encourage its drugmakers to cooperate with their Chinese counterparts, tapping into China's huge market as well as helping narrow the trade deficit with China.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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