Venezuelan government officials have announced moves which will, say industry sources, make the importing of finished and bulk pharmaceutical products a lengthier and more difficult process.

83% of finished drugs and 12% of bulk materials used in domestic production have now been downgraded from List 1 (priority) of the Foreign Exchange Administration Commission (Cadivi) to List 2, which means that companies in the sector will now have to apply for and process Non-Production Certificates (CNP) before requesting US dollars for their imports.

Cifar, the drug industry association of Venezuela, says it was not consulted before the downgrade, and is urging officials to reverse it.

Moreover, during the first half of this year, the industry's official allocation of US dollars totalled $1.78 billion, which is 33.1% lower than in the first half of 2011, say local reports.

Also, latest figures from the Venezuelan National Statistics Institute (INE) show that, while pharmaceutical imports into the country from its traditional suppliers - Germany, Switzerland, Argentina, Uruguay and the US - have risen only modestly in the last five years, those from Cuba have soared by 2,613%.

Drug imports from Cuba leapt from $10.7 million in 2006 to $292 million by the end of 2011, and so far this year they have reached $126.3 million, which is nearly $4 million more than imports from Germany this year and second only to the US total, which currently stands at $156.6 million, says the INE, according to reports this week. 

The Institute also reports that, in the five years to end-2011, pharmaceutical imports from Germany rose 204%, and the increases for Switzerland, the US and Brazil were 128%, 153% and 201%, respectively.

The local newspaper El Universal quotes one source as pointing out that Venezuelan purchases of Cuban-made medicines are made exclusively by the state, not private consumers.

Meantime, Business Monitor International (BMI) is forecasting that pharmaceutical expenditures in Venezuela will increase 11% in US dollar terms from $4.45 billion last year to $6.05 billion for this year, or up 23.8% from VEF65.36 billion to VEF79.22 billion in local currency terms.

The industry "will face an increasingly harsh pricing policy, which is unlikely to tackle the persistent medicine problem," says BMI, in a recent report.