The European Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia recently published its White Book on Trade and Policy Recommendations, a set of proposals to the government for improving the business climate in the Kingdom. As part of the chapter on healthcare, the association addresses the serious issue of parallel imports of pharmaceuticals, for years a critical IP and health safety issue in Cambodia.

As the authors describe, Cambodia has in place a system for the registration of pharmaceutical products, which requires the importer to submit details of the product and packaging. While the report is correct that Cambodia does not currently permit exclusive rights to import any specific pharmaceutical product (meaning a specific chemical formulation) the law does provide exclusive rights for a pharmaceutical brand-owner through trademark registration. Parallel imports would be an infringement of the Cambodian trademark owner’s rights, as the product was not first put on sale within the Kingdom. 

Nevertheless, the report provides a very helpful overview of the issue and how cracking down on parallel imports would improve health safety by ensuring the drugs were correctly handled throughout the supply chain. The four recommendations are practical and could be readily implemented, hopefully they will gain some traction with the authorities:

1. Provide customs officials simple access to the registered specifications for pharmaceutical products, including their packaging and artwork, so that they can more easily check for discrepancies between the registered specifications and any cargo being brought into Cambodia.

2. Ensure that any pharmaceutical product not matching the precise registered specifications be unable to obtain an import license from the Ministry of health. The ministry’s transition towards an electronic platform would facilitate more effective implementation.

3. Introduce a hotline that authorized pharmaceutical importers can call to report evidence of parallel importing and other quality concerns. ensure that reports are investigated by the relevant authorities and that appropriate enforcement actions are taken to cease the unauthorized activity.

4. Conduct regular inspections on pharmacies through authorized and competent bodies and confiscate products that do not match registered specifications so as to encourage pharmacies to be more diligent in sourcing their products.