Lebanon: The ME's pharmaceutical 'Switzerland'

Published November 13th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

The accession of Lebanon to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and partnership with EuroMed is set to bring about great change in the way Lebanese pharmaceutical companies do business, Lebanon’s Daily Star has reported. 


In July, a new law was passed to raise the standards of the local pharmaceutical industry. Lebanon is well known as a producer of pirated drugs, profiting from the exportation of these products to neighboring countries like Jordan and Syria. But the most contentious issue on the table is the laws and measure, which are being taken to support intellectual property and patents. 


At a conference held in Beirut last month organized by the APPIMAF, the Arab World’s Intellectual Property regulatory body, the discussion was focused on the future of pharmaceuticals in the Middle East.  


One suggestion being considered is transforming Lebanon into a proto-Swiss haven for the production of technology and its sale to regional consumers. “Don’t sell the product sell the technology,” the Daily Star quotes Raymond Andary of the World Intellectual Property Organization.  


Comparison to Switzerland is relevant because of the comparable sizes of the two countries and large pharmaceutical industries. Andary told the daily that Lebanon should emulate the Swiss formula of becoming an “exporter of pharmaceutical licenses, not products, in order to make money out of the patent laws.” 


However, patents and intellectual property are contentious issues in Lebanon. Foremost, is the fact that Lebanon is a massive producer of pirated drug products, and secondly, because to implement a series of laws designed to reduce the ability of local companies to continue producing their pirated products would cause immediate losses to the industry and economy. 


Rami Zein, advisor to the Lebanese Economy and Trade Minister Nasser Saidi, noted that a similar situation occurred in India with its opening up to foreign investors. At first a large number of companies closed down, but later rebounded with the introduction of a large number of foreign companies.  


Thus, it seems that for Lebanon to reach its goal of a Middle Eastern Switzerland it would first have to go through an initial decline in productivity and profits before benefiting from the new market conditions. — (Albawaba-MEBG)

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