CEPII, Recherche et Expertise sur l'economie mondiale
Pioneering a new classification: a comprehensive study of healthcare products in global trade

Pierre Cotterlaz
Guillaume Gaulier
Aude Sztulman
Deniz Ünal

 Points clés :
  • Healthcare products are dispersed across different industries in the international trade and production nomenclatures, which makes it hard to measure their overall weight and growth in global trade. The list drawn up in this paper aims for comprehensiveness and includes all traded products that can be used by the health system.
  • This healthcare industry grouping comprises 368 products from the six-digit Harmonized System Nomenclature, which are classified in five branches covering medicinal products and all their compounds, medical technology equipment and small medical materials.
  • Healthcare products are a key industry grouping in trade, accounting for 13% of world flows in manufactured goods in 2021, in second place behind electronics. Healthcare industries have posted the strongest growth since 2000 out of the ten industry groupings in our breakdown.
  • The international fragmentation of production processes is very pronounced in this industry grouping. In 2021, over half of trade was in intermediate goods and two-way trade in similar products hit a record level, the highest of all the industry groupings. Another particularity is that it has the lowest proportion of trade in the medium quality/price range.
  • In 2021, nearly three-quarters of world exports in the healthcare industry grouping came from advanced countries and most of these exports correspond to their intra-zone trade.

 Résumé :
International trade in healthcare products took off in the 2000s at the height of hyper-globalisation. Twenty years on, the Covid-19 shock drove home to governments the importance of health security and trained the spotlight on the industrial sovereignty issues raised by the international organisation of production. However, the tangled web of international value chains has compromised the traceability of the manufacturing of these essential goods. In addition, the classification of healthcare products across a multitude of industries in the trade and production nomenclatures makes them hard to identify and muddies the picture further. In this paper, we have painstakingly identified these products and classified them together in one industry grouping to assess the scale of and trends in trade to meet the needs of national health systems. Covering a vast range of products (medicinal products and their compounds, medical technology equipment and small medical materials), this healthcare industry grouping has posted the strongest relative growth since 2000, rising to take the number two share of world trade in 2021 just behind electronic products. This paper details the nature of world trade in the healthcare industry grouping and its five branches by production stage (intermediate and final), type of trade flows (one-way and two-way) and quality/price range. It goes on to present how the advanced countries are positioned compared with the rest.

Files :

 Mots-clés : Health Products | International Trade | Advanced Economies | Emerging and Developing Economies

 JEL : F13, F14, F15, I11, L65
CEPII Working Paper
N°2024-02, January 2024

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