What the success of the vaccine industry in South Korea tells us about global trade policy – The European Sting – Critical News & Insights on European Politics, Economy, Foreign Affairs, Business & Technology



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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Jennifer Brant, CEO and Founder, Innovation Insights & Godfrey Firth, Director, Government Relations, GE Healthcare

  • South Korea has positioned itself as a global vaccine hub, with its biologics industry benefiting from investment.
  • Investments will be complemented by human capital development, partnerships with foreign governments and technology providers, and lower tariff barriers on vaccine inputs.
  • The example of South Korea shows how action on tariffs, trade facilitation and regulatory harmonization can streamline the global response to health crises such as COVID-19.

South Korea: a global vaccine hub

In August 2021, President Moon Jae-in announced that South Korea would launch new initiatives to position the country as a global vaccine hub, including for COVID-19 vaccines.

He announced investments of nearly $ 2 billion to be disbursed over the next five years. This funding could help advance the South Korean biologics industry (responsible for a range of products such as vaccines, blood components and gene therapy) beyond biosimilars (biologics) and towards development. and the manufacture of innovative products.

The investments will be complemented by other important policy actions, including the development of human capital, partnerships with foreign governments and technology providers, and the acceleration of local production of key component materials. Korea also announced that it lower tariff barriers on vaccine inputs.

The aim of these measures is to position South Korea as a world leader in the development and manufacture of organic products, while ensuring that it is self-sufficient in terms of relevant technologies and inputs.

Korea is already home to major producers of biosimilars such as SK Bioscience, GC Pharma and Samsung Biologics. Korean companies have also featured prominently in the global response to COVID, providing contract manufacturing services to various vaccine developers.

The country built its production capacity over many years, starting in the 1990s, through targeted investments to build technological capacities, train the workforce and put in place the right infrastructure. The development of the pharmaceutical industry, and the growth of the biologics sector in particular, has been a strategic objective defined in Korea’s industrial development plans for more than a decade.

The current health technology plan, which ends next year, sets goals such as improving R&D capabilities, developing human capital, promoting infrastructure development for the biopharmaceutical sector and strengthening engagement with the global economy and global players.

Streamlining regulations in recent years have also supported the evolution of the organic industry in Korea. In addition, its geographic location offers a significant advantage as the Asia-Pacific region continues to experience rapid growth in investment in manufacturing and R&D.

Image: Genentech, 2021

Lifting of commercial tariffs for vaccine development inputs

Removing tariffs on inputs and equipment for making organic products can have a significant impact.

Limiting these costs in biologics value chains can support a country like Korea’s efforts to build capacity in the biopharmaceutical sector. In addition to the practical effect of reducing costs for domestic producers, it sends a signal that the country is committed to creating the right environment for knowledge partnerships and the evolution of the industry.

Ideally, Korea’s leadership in facilitating the movement of goods along global vaccine value chains will be recognized and emulated by other WTO Members. For Korea’s strategy to succeed and for rapid global innovation in biotechnology to continue, an open business environment for biopharmaceutical and vaccine inputs and products is essential.

What is the World Economic Forum doing on trade facilitation?

The Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation is a collaboration of international organizations, governments and businesses led by the Center for International Private Enterprise, the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Economic Forum, in cooperation with Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit.

It aims to help the governments of developing and least developed countries to implement the principles of the World Trade Organization. Trade Facilitation Agreement bringing governments and businesses together to identify opportunities to address delays and unnecessary red tape at borders. Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation | Benefits of trade

For example, in Colombia, the Alliance worked with the National Institute for Food and Drug and Business Surveillance to introduce a risk management system that can facilitate trade while protecting public health, reducing by 30 % the average rate of physical food and beverage inspections and providing $ 8.8 million in savings for importers in the first 18 months of operation.

Possibility of significant commercial contribution

The WTO ministerial meeting this month is the right time for WTO members to launch new negotiations to remove tariff costs from organic value chains. Tariffs increase costs for domestic producers, adding to the pressure and complexity already caused by growing demand and other factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Removing tariffs improves the business case for domestic or regional manufacturing, in all regions. As part of the core business of the WTO, there is no reason that tariff reduction should not be on the table right now.

Time is running out, but there is still time for the WTO Trade and Health Initiative proposed by 20 delegations to have a tangible and positive impact through actions on tariffs, trade facilitation and trade. harmonization of regulations.

A group of stakeholders, including the World Customs Organization and the World Health Organization, worked with the WTO Secretariat to develop a list of classification codes for medical supplies related to COVID-19.

To provide the best basis for impact, if the elimination of tariffs was sought by WTO member states, this list could include tariffs on inputs and equipment in addition to finished products relevant to the process. COVID-19 response.

As recognized by the Korean government, this is an important part of an enabling policy environment that will support the expansion of R&D and biofabrication capacity globally, and therefore contribute to readiness for a future pandemic.



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