The US-China trade in pharmaceuticals has shifted due to the trade war and the pandemic. While some sectors have seen a decline, pharmaceutical trade between the two countries has grown. Pharmaceutical products now make up nearly 3% of the total trading relationship, driven by advanced medicines. The trade is balanced, with the US importing $10.2B and exporting $9.3B to China. This growth is not due to cheap Chinese imports but rather advanced medicines like cancer treatments.
Chinese firms have become major suppliers of US pharmaceuticals, with US imports of Chinese pharmaceuticals increasing by 485 percent since 2020. China’s import share has doubled, making it the US’ fourth-largest supplier of medicines. The majority of recent growth is in ready-to-use drugs imported by American consumers and hospitals.
China’s focus on biotech and policy changes in the pharmaceutical industry has fueled import growth. The country aims to enhance its manufacturing sector and align regulatory standards with global norms. China prioritizes the domestic pharmaceutical industry due to growing public health issues, focusing on innovative treatments for chronic diseases.
US exports of pharmaceuticals to China have also increased, particularly immunological products like asthma steroids. Chinese imports of these products from the US have grown by nearly 2700% since 2017. US companies now control over 65% of the $7.9B import market.
Concerns exist regarding the supply of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) from China. However, China’s share of overall API imports has remained relatively stable at around 17% over the past decade. It is important to de-risk the supply chain by diversifying sources and conducting regular mapping exercises to identify potential risks.
To strengthen the US pharmaceutical supply chain, alternative sources should be identified where China has a significant market share. Regular supply chain mapping exercises will serve as an early-warning mechanism. Indirect risks through other trading partners should also be considered. Monitoring import growth in critical drugs is crucial for assessing supply chain risks over time.