PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Pharmacy shelves in Cambodia attest to India’s rising strength in the local medicinal drug market. India is the largest Asian supplier of pharmaceuticals to the Kingdom, supplying about $30 million worth of drugs last year – or about a quarter of the market by value.
Delegates from India’s Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council (Pharmexcil) attending a business matchmaking event in Phnom Penh this week said they see enormous potential to expand their Cambodian customer base. But only if they can keep China at bay.
While Indian firms bill themselves as producers of consistent-quality medicine, with the country’s top 25 pharma firms plugging $1 billion a year into research and development, they see China as a top supplier of cheap – though often inferior – drugs.
“If today we come out with a drug that costs one dollar, tomorrow, China will come out with a similar drug that costs 80 cents,” said Snehal M. Patel, an executive at BASE Pharmacy, a Gujarat-based drug manufacturer and exporter.
The Pharmexcil delegation, which included 25 representatives of Indian drug manufacturers and marketers, met Cambodian distributors on Monday as part of a regional tour promoting Indian pharmaceutical products.
The visiting representatives said the Kingdom’s widespread poverty conditions challenge drug distributors to balance affordability against quality. They attributed their country’s growing market share to having positioned Indian drugs as costing a little more than Chinese products, but having the same quality controls as the US and EU countries.
Sar Chanthara of Heng Chamrouen Pharma Co Ltd, a Cambodian importer and distributor attending Monday’s business forum, said the perception in the country is that European-made medicines are the best, but their price tag puts them out of reach of the vast majority of Cambodians. Chinese drug-makers, by contrast, produce cheap drugs, but their products are widely perceived as of inferior quality.
“Sometimes in China, if you give them a higher price, they can make better quality drugs,” said Ms. Chanthara. “[However,] in Cambodia, if someone hears it’s from China, they don’t like it.”
Selling on Reputation
Ashai D. Patel, director of dry-powder injectables producer Inject Care Parenterals Pvt Ltd, said China’s deeply-subsidized drug manufacturers are capable of making good quality products, though not all of them do.
“The Chinese do good work, I’m not taking that away from them,” Mr. Patel said.
However, their inconsistency hurts their reputation, he added.
China is believed to be the largest single source of fake pharmaceuticals flooding Cambodia’s market.
India has had its share of low-quality products too. But T.S. Nandakumar of Bangalore-based Estima Pharma Solutions consultancy firm said the Indian government is anxious to support its $23-billion drug industry and has stressed compliance with stringent US and EU standards.
“There is skepticism in the region that Indian quality [meets] required standards,” he said. “I say that’s wrong. We follow the strongest of the guidelines. We’re the best of the best”.
Phou Dara of Mediheal Pharmaceuticals Ltd, a local pharmaceuticals distributor, said that while some Indian sellers have proven to be low quality in the past, Cambodian doctors have increasingly come to trust Indian products over Chinese products, sometimes refusing to prescribe Chinese drugs outright.
Ms. Dara said Indian goods offer a stable midpoint between European and Chinese ones.
“Even though Indian products cost a little more than Chinese, compared to French or German drugs, they’re more affordable,” she said.