Australia drug exports drop 30% as industry lobby group cites high manufacturing costs

Drug exports from Australia are down 30% in the past few years, trade figures show, with industry warning solutions to high manufacturing costs needing to be addressed to compete or risk losing out to a growing markets in Asia, the Sydney Morning Herald said.

Citing data from Australian Bureau of Statistics trade figures released last week, the newspaper said pharmaceutical exports are now at $2.5 billion annually, down sharply from 2012 when the figure reached $4 billion.

The data underlined recent warnings from industry group Medicines Australia that an "increasingly unstable" business operating environment is discouraging companies, citing high wages, taxes and a tangle of regulations, the Sydney Morning Herald said.

Another key factor in manufacturing competitiveness--the strong Australian dollar through much of 2012 to 2014--has waned from near parity with the greenback to around 0.74 U.S. cents, but not before other manufacturers in Australia closed operations in that period--most notably Ford ($F) and General Motors ($GM).

At the same time the Liberal-led coalition government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott has moved to overhaul drug cost reimbursement rules in order to tamp down costs, while at the same time setting up funding for biomedical research that could lead to more innovative drugs discovered locally.

But a Medicines Australia spokesman told the Sydney Morning Herald that manufacturing was an important element in policy because there was a huge and growing demand in Asia for "safe" medicines in Asia.

"Australia is set to miss out on an enormous economic and job creating opportunity if our politicians fail to get the policy settings right," the Medicines Australia spokesman told the newspaper.

"Australia could take advantage of the Asia boom and at least double current medicine exports. But with stiff competition from nations such as Singapore and Japan, the time to act is running out."

On Friday, a spokeswoman for Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane told the Sydney Morning Herald that the government had identified medical technologies and pharmaceuticals as a "key economic area in which Australia has the best potential to compete internationally and in which we can create new economic opportunities."

- here's the story from the Sydney Morning Herald