Diplomatic sources have pledged to ease access for Indian drug exporters to the strategic Tunisian market, worth some US$400mn in 2004. India's drug exports to the country are currently valued at just US$1.5mn per year.

Moves to encourage greater penetration by Indian companies in North Africa are not new, as a series of bilateral meetings between Indian and Tunisian industry representatives from mid-2005 has highlighted new opportunities -- notably those presented by the country's dearth of low-priced essential medicines. Tunisia's 25 domestic manufacturers currently meet only 40% of demand, in a market where the pharmaceutical offering is limited to only 800 distinct products.

India's pharmaceutical exporters are increasingly attempting to crack key Middle East markets, at a time when many North African and Gulf states are liberalising trade conditions. It now appears that drug raw materials, generic cardiovascular and oncology medicines are most sought after by Tunisia's government, which is also keen to explore joint ventures in health tourism.

Accordingly, Indian producers with GMP and US FDA certification are now likely to be given fast-track access to the Tunisian market. The region is also close to the European Union (EU) market, while solid economic performance in recent years may have made Tunisia an attractive option in itself. Economic growth reached 6.5% in 2004, with drug market expansion estimated at 6% in the year.