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Asean free trade concerns still bug RP pharmas

Philippine Daily Inquirer | 09/28/2008

Asean free trade concerns still bug RP pharmas

By Ronnel Domingo

FEARFUL OF THE ONGOING EFFORT to realize a single market for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations by 2015, Filipino-owned pharmaceutical firms have asked the government to ensure that safety nets are in place for the local industry.

In 2009, two years after Asean leaders signed a pact to create the Asean Economic Community, the 10 member countries will start using the same types of documents for the application of new drugs.

The pact initially covered 12 sectors including pharmaceuticals.

Edward Isaac, vice president of the Philippine Chamber of Pharmaceutical Industry, said that while the unification of the Asean medicine market — where tariffs and other trade barriers would be removed — meant bigger market opportunities, it also meant greater competition among foreign firms.

“Pharmaceutical firms from our Asean neighbors are bigger and better prepared for this,” Isaac said. “We are not against competition, but we are against committing to free trade when we are not yet ready.”

Isaac said that even Indonesia, the main proponent behind the Asean when it was formed 41 years ago, was ambivalent about intraregional free trade.

“In fact, in the cosmetic industry which has started harmonization, complaints vary from bankrupt companies to some countries not complying with the trade agreement,” he said.

According to PCPI, general efforts toward free trade have taken its toll on the local pharmaceutical industry.

“There were at least 200 pharmaceutical firms in the Philippines in 1999,” Isaac said. “So many have closed shop that there are now just 60 of us.”

The PCPI VP also said that the government should be more protective of the local industry, considering that even more developed countries were taking protectionist steps.

But United Laboratories vice president Joey Ochave was more optimistic, saying that local drug makers were “for the most part ready” for a single market.

“My concern is about the [free trade agreement] with India ... we do not know what the agreement contains,” he said.

There are 20,000 drug manufacturers in India, Ochave added. Collectively, they pose a considerable threat to homegrown firms.

 source: PDI