Islamabad, December 31:

Unhappy with their China experience, Pakistani pharmaceutical companies are keen to increase business ties with India and have asked New Delhi to relax stringent visa norms.

Pakistani firms are dissatisfied with the machinery and raw materials provided by the Chinese, apart from the language barrier.

“We face a lot of problems with the Chinese, though their rates are cheaper than the Indian market,” Hafiz Usmani, spokesman for the Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, said. He said a number of Pakistani pharmaceutical companies were contacting their Indian counterparts especially for herbal, unani and homoeopathic medicines. It was easier for the Pakistani traders to access the Indian pharmaceutical companies as compared to the Chinese, said Usmani.

“But the biggest problem for us is getting Indian visa. If we try to get it through courier services, it takes more than 45 days and usually it is refused on one pretext or another,” Usmani said.

He said if businessmen went themselves to the Indian high commission, they faced a lot of problems and “after standing for hours in long queues, they are told to come again tomorrow”.

However, an Indian high commission official said they were processing business visas within 15 days and “no bona fide businessman with proper application and documents is refused visa.”

Nasir M Qureshi, CEO of Pramount Pharmaceuticals, who is engaged in talks with several Indian companies, said the Indian pharmaceutical industry had prospered. “It has plants, raw materials for life saving drugs which are, in many cases, the best in region,” said Qureshi, who has visited India twice.

“Despite having a quality market in the neighbourhood, we are forced to trade with China due to visa and trade restrictions by both the governments,” he said.

“Theoretically both India and Pakistan have eased trade and visa restrictions but everyone knows that in reality it is a tough task to get visa for the business community for each other’s country.” The total pharmaceutical market in Pakistan is estimated at $1,000 million, with a five percent annual growth. However, multinationals dominate the industry with a market share of about 60 percent. Qureshi said the Pakistani pharmaceutical industry was completely dependent on China for the supply of raw materials and machinery despite these being of inferior quality.

The machinery did not last very long and if it developed snags it was a major problem, as the Chinese did not offer after-sales services, he said.

Ghulam Sarwar Mohmand, former president of Sarhad Chambers of Commerce and Industry who is involved in the pharmaceutical business, said, “India is already dumping the local market with sub-standard drugs through Afghanistan.”

He said if the government decided to import drugs from India, only those approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be allowed; otherwise vested interests could dump the Pakistani market with substandard drugs apart from harming the interests of the local industry.

The pharmaceutical industry in Pakistan has grown from 20 manufacturers two decades ago to around 316 manufacturers and 20 multinationals at present.