China has told India that that it will start taking steps to open up its pharmaceutical market to Indian drugmakers.

Moreover, China’s national health reform programme will present Indian drugmakers with great opportunities, Chinese leaders including Premier Wen Jiabao told Indian trade officials ld by Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma in Beijing last week, at the first Joint Economic Group trade talks between the two nations to be held since March 2006.

Since that last meeting, trade between India and China has risen more than 50% to reach a value of $51.8 billion in 2008. However, the trade imbalance in favour of China has also grown, from $4 billion in 2006 to more than $14 billion last year. The global economic downturn reduced the value of bilateral trade to $38 billion for the first 11 months of 2009, with Indian exports to China – the vast majority of which currently consist of raw materials – declining 38% to $11 billion, although Chinese exports to India were only down 9%, at $27 billion. Nevertheless, for this year, the two nations have set a bilateral trade target of $60 billion.

The emphasis of Indian officials at last week’s trade talks was particularly aimed at improving market access for the nation’s producers of pharmaceuticals and information technology products. Among the problems reported by Indian drugmakers in trying to market their products in China include a lengthy registration process, price competition and distribution difficulties, plus certain non-tariff trade barriers.

Following the talks, Mr Sharma said the Chinese delegation had called on Indian companies in the pharmaceutical, IT and construction industries to work jointly with domestic firms in China to increase their presence and access in their markets.

However, the meeting concluded with the Indian delegation making strong calls for action by China, including the “complete removal of procedural bottlenecks which delay introduction of Indian drugs in the Chinese market.”