Foreign Trade of Pharmaceutical products is in Steady Rise

In 2018, the import and export value of China’s pharmaceutical products reached 63.287 billion USD, down by 8.83% year on year, among which the export value was 36.883 billion dollars, a year-on-year increase of 4.03%, maintaining a good growth trend, and the import value was 26.404 billion dollars, a year-on-year decrease of 22.26%, amounting to the foreign trade surplus of 10.478 billion dollars.

By further analysis, both the export volume and average export prices of pharmaceutical products realized a year-on-year growth, up by 2.41% and 1.58% respectively, accounting for a slight but steady growth of export value. In contrast, the import volume of pharmaceutical products increased by 7.88%, while the average import prices dropped by 27.93%. Although the sharp drop in the average import price led to the negative growth of import value, domestic demands for pharmaceutical products were boasting and the volume of imported pharmaceutical products continued to grow. The significant decline in the average import price mainly resulted from the implementation of a series of policies on reducing the drug prices to ensure the accessibility and affordability of medicines for the public in recent years, such as zero tariff treatment to imported drugs, reduction of VAT on imported anticancer drugs, speeding up the review and approval process of urgently required clinical drugs such as anti-cancer and orphan drugs, negotiations on prices of drugs covered by the health insurance directory, and centralized procurement of generic drugs based on identified varieties and agreed quantity in “4+7” cities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing plus Shenyang, Dalian, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, and Xi’an). Under the comprehensive influence of these policies, the price of imported drugs ushered in a significant decrease, benefiting all our people.

The export of APIs accounted for 80%, and the proportion of exported pharmaceutical products increased
With regard to the export pattern, there was no evident change in the three major categories of exported pharmaceutical products in 2018. APIs still took the largest proportion of the exported pharmaceutical products with an export volume of 9.29 million tons, a year-on-year increase of 3.75%, but the average export price fell slightly by 0.53% on a year-on-year basis. In this regard, the export value of APIs in 2018 reached 30.048 billion dollars, up by 3.2% year on year, accounting for 81.47% of the total value of exported pharmaceutical products. On the basis of significant growth in the previous two years, the export volume of bulk APIs such as vitamins, amino acids, penicillins, antipyretics, analgesics, and cephalosporins realized an over 10% growth rate for the first time. However, the export value of other anti-infective and hormonal APIs was dragged down greatly by the significant decline in export volume in spite of the substantial increase in the previous period. This indicates that the booming years of APIs export has come to an end and some varieties have entered the downside cycle.

Although the export volume of pharmaceutical preparations decreased by 5.22% year on year, the average export price rose by 25.17%, contributing to the new record high of USD4.1 billion export value, a year-on-year increase of 18.64%, taking up 11.12% of the total value of exported finished dosages, 1.37 percent higher than that of last year. It is noteworthy that more and more local enterprises began their large-scale export of pharmaceutical products preparations to the regulatory markets such as Europe, the United States and Japan, and maintained steady growth momentum. The export of China’s pharmaceutical products preparations marches forward on the course of globalization.

The export of biochemical drugs also showed a decline in the volume and an increase in price, but the 17.17% year-on-year growth rate of the average export price failed to offset the 19.02% year-on-year decline of export volume, resulting in 5.13% year-on-year decrease of the export value to only 2.735 billion dollars, accounting for 7.42% of the total value of exported pharmaceutical products. Among them, the volume decrease of exported biochemical drugs is mainly attributed to the significant decline in the export volume of enzymes and coenzymes, but the export of heparin and salt, the largest variety of exported biochemical drugs, increased significantly in both volume and price, amounting to 40.04% year-on-year increase of its export value to 1.103 billion dollars.

Imported pharmaceutical preparations accounted for half of the total, and the demand for imported APIs increased
In terms of import, the import of pharmaceutical preparations still took the largest proportion. Imported pharmaceutical preparations are mainly patented drugs and reference listed drugs (RLDs) from multinational pharmaceutical companies. Even if the patents expired and facing the still-high price of imported drugs due to the bidding and procurement policy on prescriptions (medical institutions shall purchase drugs under the approved drug names, and for each approved drug name, there shall be no more than two injection dosage and oral dosage forms), domestic drugs still cannot match up with these imported drugs in a relatively long period of time. With the comprehensive advancement of quality consistency evaluation of generic drugs and implementation of a series of policies to reduce drug prices in the recent two years such as negotiations on prices of drugs covered by the health insurance directory, and centralized procurement of generic drugs based on identified varieties and agreed quantity in “4+7” cities, the average import price of pharmaceutical products preparations in 2018 finally declined sharply, dropped by 25.36% over the last year. However, despite the release of a series of incentive policies on importing urgently required clinical drugs such as anti-cancer and orphan drugs, the import volume of pharmaceutical products preparations increased by only 1.75% due to the restriction of the registration period of drug marketing, the accelerated import substitution of domestic drugs, and active marketing strategy adjustment by multinational pharmaceutical companies. As a result, the import value of pharmaceutical products preparations reached 13.03 billion dollars, a year-on-year decrease of 24.05%.

The recent years have witnessed API outage or price boom for many times due to the pressure of environmental protection and the monopoly of some APIs, forcing the downstream enterprises to seek import substitution; The quality consistency evaluation of generic drugs and a growing number of new drugs listed at home and abroad also expanded the demand for high-quality APIs. In 2018, China’s import volume of APIs increased by 8.68% year on year, but the average price fell by 9.06%, accounting for the slight year-on-year decrease of import value to 8.621 billion dollars, down by 1.16%, taking up 32.65% of the total value of imported pharmaceutical products.

After nearly a decade of rapid growth, the import volume of biochemical drugs in 2018 decreased for the first time. Under the dual impact of 41.21% year-on-year decline in import volume and 7.67% year-on-year decrease in import prices, the import value of biochemical drugs dropped by 36.32% to only 4.753 billion dollars. Among them, the import of immunological products, antiserum, unspecified enzymes and enzyme products experienced a sharp decrease. However, the import of products such as human vaccines, insulins and salt maintained a high growth rate.


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