Chinese TCM Gets Ready To Take On The World

As quality control procedures are implemented in the world?s most populous country, Shane Starling talks to Professor Ren Dequan, State Food and Drug Administration deputy commissioner, to see how China is gearing up to take advantage of new opportunities at home and abroad.

After six years of implementation and many more years of planning, phase one of China?s traditional medicines industry reforms is almost complete. By April 2004, all manufacturers must comply with the Good Manufacturing Processes set out by the State Food and Drug Administration in 1998. Farms producing raw ingredients have until 2007 to meet Good Agricultural Practices.

Professor Dequan has been at the centre of the reform process since it was envisioned back in the 1980s, and he is pleased to see the plan progressing with such alacrity. For a long time there was great doubt about whether there would be any plan at all.

Despite the obvious need for the TCM industry to evolve if it was to maximise the opportunities proffered by a new century, there was much resistance to change among stalwarts of an industry that is thousands of years old. If it ain?t broke, why fix it? they asked. It is broke, Professor Dequan replied.

?There was a lot of doubt about whether China could move forward in this way,? Dequan said. ?There was much resistance because many people, including high-ranking government officials, thought the reforms we were suggesting would cripple the industry. They didn?t think we could do it and do it as quickly as we have. It took a lot of argument to convince them that if we did not reform, the world would pass us by and we would be crippled anyway.?

Double-digit Growth
Only now are the benefits beginning to emerge. One of the principal problems faced by the TCM industry was the international perception, perhaps exaggerated but a reality nonetheless, that Chinese TCM were poor quality. For this reason, TCM sourced from Japan and Korea achieved higher exports than those from mainland China. But China has recorded double-digit growth in recent years, a trend that is forecast to continue.

By implementing new standards, from the farm to the factory to the shelf, Chinese TCM are meeting the needs of increasingly discerning domestic consumers and booming international demand for botanicals.

Rapid Progress

Quality has been improved as raw materials via the GAP system are being controlled
With a full GMP/GAP certification scheme in place, and both industrial and agricultural sectors understanding what is required of them, progress is being achieved at a rapid rate. ?We are more modernised, more organised. Things are done on a larger scale. We are better regulated and more centralised. Companies and farmers are moving ahead on this track and it is progressing more than satisfactorily,? Dequan stated. ?Quality has been improved because raw materials via the GAP system are being controlled. And because the supply of raw materials is more stable, there is less price fluctuation. So you have stable sources and stable prices. We have never had this before. Now companies and farms are voluntarily adopting GMP and GAP because they know what the requirements are and they know they will gain benefits. They know costs of production will increase but so will the price they can get for their goods if the quality is there. And they know if they don?t join the system, they will be left out in the cold.?

Benchmark Branding
The manner in which China?s TCM are marketed to the world is another area Dequan would like to see improved. ?We want TCM to be as good quality as any coming from other parts of the world. That is the challenge. China is also trying to establish its own brand names to take on some of the established herbal brands, many of which are not Chinese and many of which do not even use TCM sourced from China. But our brands need to be associated with the highest quality TCM. This is the challenge we have before us.?

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