Top Markets for Buying Imported Pharmaceutical Drugs

Pharmaceutical drugs represent the world’s sixth-most valuable imported product, benefiting from growing worldwide demand.

Also referred to as medications, pharmaceutical drugs are used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent pain or illness. Some pharmaceutical drugs require a physician’s prescription while other medications can be purchased over the counter like any other product.

Global demand for imported medications attracted US$433.8 billion in revenues in 2020. The latest annual value of imported pharmaceutical drugs reflects a 20.7% increase since 2016.

From 2019 to 2020, worldwide imports of medications appreciated by 5.6%.

The 5 most lucrative import markets for selling pharmaceutical drugs generated 42.7% of revenues for medications purchased on international markets in 2020. Strongest cashflows for imported pharmaceutical drugs came from: United States (19.1% of world total), Germany (7.9%), Switzerland (6%), China (4.9%) and Belgium (4.7%).

Among these 5 key markets, the highest year-over-year buying increase was the 23.1% gain generated by importers in Switzerland. Three other top buyer countries while grew their medication purchases from 2019 to 2020 specifically Belgium (up 15.1%), Germany (up 10.8%) and America (up 4.3%). The People’s Republic of China was the outlier in this subset via its flatlining decline of -0.2%.

In many countries, pharmaceutical drugs can be easily purchased at a myriad of shopping venues from local pharmacies to online repositories like Walgreens and the Amazon Pharmacy.

By comparing changes in consumer demand for imported pharmaceutical drugs by buyer country highlighted in this article, researchers can uncover the most compelling opportunities for selling medications and related services on international markets.

Medications Are Consumer Convenience Products

Medications satisfies the criteria of a consumer good (also called an end product) created for consumers to buy in its final form to satisfy their need for treating pain or illness. In contrast, products like turbojets are usually purchased by companies or government entities rather than individuals.

Economists classify pharmaceutical drugs as a convenience product, a technical classification for goods that are easily accessed and purchased relatively often. Many shoppers buy pharmaceutical drugs on weekly trips to their local pharmacies located in vast shopping malls or inside nearby grocery stores. Medications can also be ordered online for delivery to customers’ residences.

Most medications have an expiration date, the final day that the drug manufacturer guarantees the medication’s full potency and safety. Typically, expiration dates range from 1 to 5 years in the future.

Searchable Table: Imported Medications by Country

The sortable table below showcases marketing intelligence for the top 100 buying countries for imported pharmaceutical drugs, ranked in descending order starting with the greatest annual sales amount at the 4-digit Harmonized System (HS) code level. For pharmaceutical drugs, the two constituent-based HS code prefixes (3003 and 3004) have been combined for the metrics presented in this article.

Also shown is the benchmark percentage of the world’s total purchases of imported pharmaceutical drugs in 2020, as well as the change in those sales from 2019 to 2020.

RankImporterUS$%Total2019-20
1United States$82,803,245,00019.1%+4.3%
2Germany$34,369,880,0007.9%+10.8%
3Switzerland$26,190,965,0006.0%+23.1%
4China$21,463,454,0004.9%-0.2%
5Belgium$20,586,817,0004.7%+15.1%
6Italy$18,656,024,0004.3%+9.2%
7France$18,267,904,0004.2%+15.5%
8United Kingdom$18,074,190,0004.2%-3.7%
9Japan$17,289,858,0004.0%+1.9%
10Netherlands$11,734,460,0002.7%+15.4%
11Spain$11,588,096,0002.7%+7.6%
12Canada$8,673,383,0002.0%+1.9%
13Russia$7,445,708,0001.7%-28.7%
14Australia$5,604,593,0001.3%+4.8%
15Poland$5,357,004,0001.2%+3%
16Slovenia$5,326,412,0001.2%+35.9%
17Ireland$5,144,671,0001.2%+19.7%
18Czech Republic$4,563,268,0001.1%+6.3%
19Saudi Arabia$4,417,644,0001.0%+6.2%
20South Korea$4,302,959,0001.0%+5%
21Denmark$4,039,090,0000.9%+22.2%
22Austria$3,977,287,0000.9%+4.9%
23Brazil$3,422,678,0000.8%-11.1%
24Romania$3,285,093,0000.8%+7.2%
25Sweden$3,245,808,0000.7%+13.6%
26Taiwan$3,169,577,0000.7%+2.7%
27Hungary$2,960,392,0000.7%+2.7%
28Mexico$2,864,459,0000.7%+1.3%
29Vietnam$2,765,455,0000.6%+2.5%
30Turkey$2,568,238,0000.6%-4.9%
31Portugal$2,507,328,0000.6%+9.4%
32Greece$2,455,026,0000.6%+11.2%
33Hong Kong$2,322,766,0000.5%+4.4%
34Israel$2,027,795,0000.5%+16.9%
35United Arab Emir.$1,995,958,0000.5%-38.8%
36Egypt$1,988,675,0000.5%-11.1%
37Ukraine$1,987,212,0000.5%+15.8%
38Slovakia$1,950,490,0000.4%+22.3%
39South Africa$1,823,755,0000.4%+2.2%
40Singapore$1,798,885,0000.4%+12.2%
41Thailand$1,772,269,0000.4%+2.4%
42Finland$1,723,997,0000.4%+7.9%
43Norway$1,671,441,0000.4%+7.9%
44Colombia$1,582,919,0000.4%+0.8%
45Malaysia$1,455,056,0000.3%+5.7%
46Nigeria$1,438,978,0000.3%+60.9%
47Bulgaria$1,364,311,0000.3%+6.5%
48Philippines$1,325,677,0000.3%-3.8%
49Kazakhstan$1,211,106,0000.3%+36.9%
50India$1,125,284,0000.3%-17.8%
51Argentina$1,123,944,0000.3%-2.3%
52Chile$1,118,744,0000.3%+4.3%
53Serbia$1,080,078,0000.2%+34.3%
54Lithuania$1,079,417,0000.2%+4%
55Algeria$1,064,730,0000.2%-10.8%
56Uzbekistan$1,031,833,0000.2%+24.9%
57Croatia$939,327,0000.2%+6.1%
58Iraq$901,639,0000.2%-7.9%
59Panama$899,114,0000.2%-3.9%
60Ecuador$742,259,0000.2%+3.3%
61Indonesia$736,832,0000.2%+18.4%
62Lebanon$713,507,0000.2%-10.3%
63Peru$677,080,0000.2%+16.9%
64New Zealand$662,147,0000.2%+3%
65Latvia$633,558,0000.1%+3.8%
66Costa Rica$582,493,0000.1%-0.1%
67Guatemala$576,776,0000.1%+5.7%
68Dominican Rep.$574,159,0000.1%-4.3%
69Estonia$538,238,0000.1%+11%
70Kenya$537,140,0000.1%+13.7%
71Qatar$525,003,0000.1%+13.3%
72Belarus$519,776,0000.1%-12.8%
73Jordan$511,639,0000.1%+14.8%
74Morocco$504,996,0000.1%+9.8%
75Pakistan$492,017,0000.1%+4.3%
76Luxembourg$481,157,0000.1%+7.1%
77Myanmar$480,569,0000.1%+7.1%
78Kuwait$478,174,0000.1%-54%
79Ethiopia$469,372,0000.1%-15.9%
80Sri Lanka$422,221,0000.1%+8.2%
81Iran$406,929,0000.1%-34.6%
82El Salvador$389,643,0000.1%-0.5%
83Tanzania$361,441,0000.1%+30.7%
84Nicaragua$346,973,0000.1%+7.4%
85Azerbaijan$327,172,0000.1%+25.1%
86Oman$306,614,0000.1%+5.9%
87Bosnia/Herzegov.$305,601,0000.1%+6.5%
88Tunisia$303,487,0000.1%-30.4%
89Malta$295,666,0000.1%+25.7%
90Uganda$294,639,0000.1%+24.2%
91Georgia$291,815,0000.1%-9.7%
92Cyprus$288,644,0000.1%+7.6%
93Ivory Coast$266,762,0000.1%-22.8%
94Sudan$264,912,0000.1%+1.5%
95Yemen$264,264,0000.1%+3.1%
96Senegal$264,162,0000.1%+9%
97Mozambique$251,199,0000.1%+54.5%
98Macao$251,003,0000.1%+8.2%
99Ghana$250,900,0000.1%+22.2%
100Moldova$231,356,0000.1%-7.9%

Among the above 100 global markets, 75 countries increased their spending on imported pharmaceutical drugs. The 7 strongest percentage gains year over year were posted by Nigeria (up 60.9%), Mozambique (up 54.5%), Kazakhstan (up 36.9%), Slovenia (up 35.9%), Serbia (up 34.3%), Tanzania (up 30.7%) and Malta (up 25.7%).

Leading the 25 decliners year over year were Kuwait (down -54%), United Arab Emirates (down -38.8%), Iran (down -34.6%), Tunisia (down -30.4%), Russia (down -28.7%), Ivory Coast (down -22.8%) and India (down -17.8%).

Richest Global Markets for Imported Medications

Illustrated below is the market demand for pharmaceutical drugs imported during 2020 by 30 of world’s richest countries in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per person, according to RichestCountryReports.com.

Countries are listed in descending order starting with the wealthiest economy in terms of GDP per capita.

  1. Luxembourg: US$481.2 million (Up 7.1%)
  2. Singapore: $1.8 billion (Up 12.2%)
  3. Ireland: $5.1 billion (Up 19.7%)
  4. Qatar: $525 million (Up 13.3%)
  5. Macao: $251 million (Up 8.2%)
  6. Switzerland: $26.2 billion (Up 23.1%)
  7. Norway: $1.7 billion (Up 7.9%)
  8. United States: $82.8 billion (Up 4.3%)
  9. Brunei Darussalam: $160.1 million (Up 69.7%)
  10. Hong Kong: $2.3 billion (Up 4.4%)
  11. Denmark: $4 billion (Up 22.2%)
  12. Netherlands: $11.7 billion (Up 15.4%)
  13. United Arab Emirates: $2 billion (Down -38.8%)
  14. Taiwan: $3.2 billion (Up 2.7%)
  15. Iceland: $172.3 million (Up 18.2%)
  16. Austria: $4 billion (Up 4.9%)
  17. Germany: $34.4 billion (Up 10.8%)
  18. Sweden: $3.2 billion (Up 13.6%)
  19. Australia: $5.6 billion (Up 4.8%)
  20. Belgium: $20.6 billion (Up 15.1%)
  21. Finland: $1.7 billion (Up 7.9%)
  22. Canada: $8.7 billion (Up 1.9%)
  23. Bahrain: $142 million (Down -51.2%)
  24. France: $18.3 billion (Up 15.5%)
  25. Saudi Arabia: $4.4 billion (Up 6.2%)
  26. United Kingdom: $18.1 billion (Down -3.7%)
  27. South Korea: $4.3 billion (Up 5%)
  28. Malta: $295.7 million (Up 25.7%)
  29. Japan: $17.3 billion (Up 1.9%)
  30. New Zealand: $662.1 million (Up 3%)

Among the above wealthiest economies per capita, 27 spent more on imported pharmaceutical drugs in 2020 compared to 2019. The leading gainers were Brunei Darussalam (up 69.7%), Malta (up 25.7%), Switzerland (up 23.1%), Denmark (up 22.2%), Ireland (up 19.7%), Iceland (up 18.2%) and France (up 15.5%).

Registering declines in money spent on imported medications were a trio of richest countries, namely Bahrain (down -51.2%), United Arab Emirates (down -38.8%) and the United Kingdom (down -3.7%).

US Demand for Imported Medications

In 2020, the United States of America served as the world’s biggest market for imported pharmaceutical drugs. America’s purchases for the year were worth $82.8 billion in US dollars.

The top 5 sources for US imports of pharmaceutical drugs (Ireland, Switzerland, India, Germany, Denmark) collected 63.8% of total American purchases for pharmaceutical drugs on international markets.

The following 15 countries benefited the most from selling imported pharmaceutical drugs into the United States in 2020.

  1. Ireland: US$17 billion (20.5% of US total)
  2. Switzerland: $13.9 billion (16.8%)
  3. India: $8.1 billion (9.7%)
  4. Germany: $7.5 billion (9%)
  5. Denmark: $6.4 billion (7.7%)
  6. Italy: $4.7 billion (5.7%)
  7. Canada: $4.2 billion (5.1%)
  8. United Kingdom: $3.7 billion (4.4%)
  9. Belgium: $2.7 billion (3.3%)
  10. Singapore: $2.4 billion (2.9%)
  11. Japan: $2.3 billion (2.7%)
  12. France: $1.74 billion (2.1%)
  13. Israel: $1.72 billion (2.1%)
  14. Spain: $1.6 billion (1.9%)
  15. China: $914.1 million (1.1%)

The above 15 international providers sold 95.1% of the $82.8 billion worth of imported pharmaceutical drugs delivered to the United States during 2020.

Year over year, 9 international pharmaceutical drugs suppliers realized higher revenues shipping pharmaceutical drugs to American buyers in 2020 compared to pharmaceutical drugs sold one year earlier. Leading those gainers were Spain (up 122.7%), Belgium (up 46.8%), China (up 33.9%) and Ireland (up 18.8%).

Key American States for Buying Imported Medications

There were 18 American states or territories where pharmaceutical drugs ranked among that entity’s top 25 imported products by value in 2020.

  1. New Jersey: US$13.2 billion worth of imported medications (up 21.4% from 2019)
  2. Pennsylvania: $12.9 billion (down -11.2%)
  3. Tennessee: $10.7 billion (down -3.8%)
  4. Indiana: $9.3 billion (up 22.8%)
  5. Ohio: $6.3 billion (up 0.9%)
  6. Kentucky: $6.1 billion (up 42.7%)
  7. Illinois: $5.3 billion (up 1.3%)
  8. Delaware: $2.7 billion (up 72.6%)
  9. Georgia: $1.8 billion (down -14.6%)
  10. North Carolina: $1.7 billion (up 42.2%)
  11. New York: $1.4 billion (up 7.3%)
  12. Puerto Rico: $627.2 million (down -0.6%)
  13. Missouri: $299.6 million (down -25.2%)
  14. South Carolina: $298.1 million (up 4%)
  15. Wisconsin: $209.8 million (up 30.5%)
  16. Virginia: $189.1 million (down -3.8%)
  17. Nebraska: $145 million (down -11.9%)
  18. Kansas: $74 million (up 17.2%)

Based on the above metrics, New Jersey ranks as the most robust market for medications among US states in terms of dollar value. Kentucky is fastest-growing state for importing pharmaceutical drugs from 2019 to 2020.

Unit Costs by Major Suppliers for US Medications

The United States of America paid a diverse range of unit costs per cubic meter of imported pharmaceutical drugs in 2020. Per source country, the average unit price depends on the supplier’s exchange rate, its ability to access the pharmaceutical drug products in demand, and the actual drugs themselves which can vary widely.

Below, you will find the average unit price that American importers paid to 15 of the top suppliers for pharmaceutical drugs shipped to the US in 2020. They are presented in descending order starting with the nations that furnished the highest total dollar value worth of medications to the US.

  1. Ireland: US$906,534 per ton (down -35.7% from 2019)
  2. Switzerland: $1,985,531 per ton (down -22.3%)
  3. India: $83,563 per ton (down -1.7%)
  4. Germany: $275,459 per ton (down -28.2%)
  5. Denmark: $1,971,144 per ton (down -23.1%)
  6. Italy: $144,029 per ton (down -36.7%)
  7. Canada: $107,977 per ton (down -16.9%)
  8. United Kingdom: $260,298 per ton (up 9.6%)
  9. Belgium: $1,303,744 per ton (up 7.5%)
  10. Singapore: $1,539,703 per ton (up 37.5%)
  11. Japan: $400,642 per ton (down -9.2%)
  12. France: $218,216 per ton (down -37.9%)
  13. Israel: $163,047 per ton (down -15%)
  14. Spain: $109,013 per ton (up 84.8%)
  15. China: $57,410 per ton (up 22.4%)

The lowest unit costs per ton of pharmaceutical drugs imported into the United States belongs to suppliers in China, India, Canada, Spain, Italy and Israel.

America pays the highest unit price per ton of imported medications to suppliers in Switzerland, Denmark, Singapore and Belgium. Double-digit gains in unit cost per ton paid by the US belong to suppliers in Spain (up 84.8% from 2019), Singapore (up 37.5%) and China (up 22.4%).

World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Drug Companies

Below you will find the top 10 largest multinationals that sell pharmaceuticals both domestically and on international markets.

The list was ranked in descending order based on the highest company revenues for 2020. Please note that those overall revenues may include cashflows from other product lines beyond pharmaceutical drugs.

  1. Sinopharm (Shanghai, China): US$50.4 billion
  2. Roche Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland): $49.5 billion
  3. Novartis (Basel, Switzerland): $48.7 billion
  4. Merck (Kenilworth, United States): $48 billion
  5. AbbVie (Lake Bluff, United States): $45.8 billion
  6. Johnson & Johnson/Janssen (New Brunswick, United States): $45.6 billion
  7. GlaxoSmithKline (Brentford, United Kingdom): $43.5 billion
  8. Bristol Meyers Squibb (New York, United States): $42.5 billion
  9. Pfizer (New York, United States): $41.9 billion
  10. Sanofi (Paris, France): $41.1 billion

Shown within brackets is the city which serves as the global headquarters for each pharmaceuticals conglomerate.

See also

More great research: Top Countries for Imports of Beauty & Skincare Cosmetics, Best Global Consumer Markets for Selling Imported Perfumes, Most Valuable Global Markets for Selling Silver Imports, Best Global Consumer Markets for Selling Jewelry, Best Global Consumer Markets for Selling Imported Flowers

References

Independent insights and analysis presented in this article are based on researched facts and statistics sourced from the following educational portals.

BoyceWire, Consumer Goods Definition.

Drug Discovery & Development, The 50 largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Drugs.com, Drug Expiration Dates – Are Expired Drugs Still Safe to Take?.

Forbes, The Forbes Global 2000 List.

International Trade Centre, Trade Map.

Investopedia, Consumer Goods, Consumer Staples Definition, Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG).

Richest Country Reports, Top 50 Richest Countries by GDP per Capita.

United States Census Bureau, Foreign Trade State Data.

USITC DataWeb, US Merchandise Trade: Imports for Consumption.

Wikipedia, Drug, Medication.

World’s Top Exports, Drugs and Medicine Exports by Country.

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