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Pharmaceutical exports a rare bright spot for Singapore economy

Singapore

SINGAPORE'S exports of pharmaceutical products have surged this year as the coronavirus pandemic prompts worldwide stockpiling of drug ingredients, providing a much needed salve for an economy facing its deepest recession in its 55-year history.

Pharmaceutical output in Singapore has spiked 86 per cent so far this year, official data showed on Tuesday, while export data for April showed that pharmaceutical shipments surged 174 per cent from the same month a year earlier, albeit from a low base.

Singapore is one of the few countries in the world that exports more pharmaceuticals than it imports, according to Fitch Solutions. It has more than 50 pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, including plants owned by eight of the world's 10 biggest pharma firms.

Companies and governments around the world are building large inventories of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and drugs to ensure supplies of medicine remain uninterrupted and can be made close to market, said How Ti Hwei, president of the Singapore Association of Pharmaceutical Industries.

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"Across the board there is stocking up," he said.

Mr How said the pandemic has driven up demand for intensive care and emergency-use drugs, including antibiotics and anaesthesia products. The United States, Europe and Japan were Singapore's biggest export destinations for APIs in recent months, he added.

US drugmaker Pfizer said in a statement that it had seen a "tremendous increase in demand" for anti-infectives - a generic term for drugs such as antibiotics and antivirals used to treat infections - which it produces in Singapore and elsewhere.

The beefing up of drug inventories has helped lift exports from Singapore for three straight months, defying analysts' forecasts that overall shipments would fall.

Its biomedical industry, which employs more than 24,000 people, accounted for about 20 per cent of the manufacturing sector in 2019 which in turn accounted for about a fifth of gross domestic product. REUTERS

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