The United States is the world’s largest medical device exporter, according to reports accounting for $45 billion of over $140 billion in global exports in 2014. This is not surprising since it also produced the largest share of medical devices in the same year, contributing to nearly a fifth of the $340 billion global industry. Yet, the United States and other large markets are largely saturated with annual growth rates of only 3 to 5 percent.
For these reasons, Cuba displays a potential high-growth opportunity for American medical device manufacturers, according to a recent report in the Cuba Journal. According to the report, Cuba’s expenditures on healthcare in 2014 were nearly 10 percent of its GDP. Yet, Cuba’s domestic production of medical devices is limited largely to low margin goods such as surgical dressings, optical lenses, and dental supplies. Thus, Cuba is greatly dependent on medical device imports, including both low-end goods such as syringes and catheters as well as high-end goods like imaging equipment and orthopedic devices.
However, the share of imports to Cuba from the United States is dwarfed by other countries. According to the report, Europe makes up over 40 percent of Cuban imports while China and Japan combine for nearly 30% of the country’s imports, as of 2014. The United States, on the other hand, provides less than 1 percent of Cuba’s medical devices. Even Mexico exports twice the share of Cuban medical devices the United States does.
Meanwhile, similarly sized markets received far greater attention from U.S. manufacturers. For most of the period from 2005-2014, U.S. exports to regional countries with a per capita GDP comparable to Cuba’s, such as the Dominican Republic and Colombia, have been more than 200 times greater than that of Cuba, according to the report
Fortunately, medical device exports to Cuba from the United States are on the rise. In 2015, U.S. exports to Cuba jumped by more than 600 percent compared to 2014 even though exports to Cuba dropped overall by 40 percent in the same period.
Notwithstanding the above, few companies have taken advantage of the Cuban market. This may be due in part to unfamiliarity with the law as well as delays and difficulties in complying with it. However, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control has relaxed some of the barriers, and an exception for medicines and medical devices to the general policy of denial for exports already exists. This, combined with a greater awareness of the trade opportunities in Cuba and the greater openness between the United States and Cuba, have made Cuba a potentially attractive destination for U.S. medical devices. But, at present, the Cuban market remains largely untapped.