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he pharmaceutical industry has emerged as a major sector of the world economy only during the second half of the 20th Century. Today, it is a 300 billion dollar industry spread across mainly in three continents namely North America, Europe and parts of Asia. Almost 40 percent of the world pharmaceutical market is controlled by North America, followed by Europe with a market share of 20 percent. Japan alone has a market share of 15 percent in Asia. Rest of the pharmaceutical market is in South East Asia, Latin America, Africa and Australia.

Growth of pharmaceutical industry has taken place in South East Asia only during the last 13 years. .India, China and South Korea have now been recognised as the leading players in South East Asian region producing and exporting a large number of bulk drugs and some quantum of dosage forms to the developed world. India emerged as key supplier of several bulk drugs to the US and European markets during the second half of eighties. China entered the world pharmaceutical markets as a major supplier of bulk drugs in the nineties with much lower prices and in direct competition with India.

Today, it is one of the major suppliers of bulk drugs to the formulation producers worldwide. Chinese bulk drugs are also being accepted as quality APIs. Countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong are making serious efforts to build up strong domestic pharmaceutical bases of late although currently MNCs dominate these markets.

An important difference in the south East Asian countries unlike in India is the relatively higher standards of manufacturing practices followed by the pharma companies. India, on other hand, has much larger number of pharmaceutical companies but a majority of them with poor manufacturing standards. Hardly 200 out of a total of 15,000 units have any acceptable manufacturing standards in India. With mandatory implementation of GMP by Jan, 2005 the face of Indian pharmaceutical industry will also be changing with vast number of small operators will be closing shops for good.

An important incentive for the pharma companies in South East Asian countries is the exploding demand for generics in the US and European markets in the coming years. With increasing emphasis on cut in healthcare costs in these developed markets, governments are keen to use more of generics instead of branded products. It is estimated that almost 40 percent of annual consumption of medicines in the US and Europe is going to be generics from now onwards. Japan, the third biggest pharmaceutical market, is also looking at generics as an ideal option.