Massachusetts Export Center


Mass High Tech


Latin America slips from
med device export focus


Mass High Tech: The Journal of New England Technology
Ryan McBride Mass High Tech


Massachusetts medical device exports to Latin America dropped last year, and Bay State firms appear to have a waning interest in the region, choosing to focus instead on hotter markets in Europe and Asia.


In fact, not a single New England company took an open invitation by the U.S. Department of Commerce to join other medical devices firms on a health-care technology trade mission next week in South America.


Massachusetts' medical device exports to Latin America -- which includes Mexico as well as countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean -- fell by 17 percent, from a total of $70.2 million in 2005 to $58.2 million last year, according to data from the Massachusetts Export Center.


That decline followed a prior-year jump of 54.7 percent in annual exports of medical devices from the Bay State to Latin America, between 2004 and 2005, a time period that realized an

8.5 percent increase in total foreign exports.


"Our business (in Latin America) is basically flat," said Kevin McCollum, vice president of Medica Corp., a Bedford-based maker of electrolyte and blood-gas analyzers as well as reagents used in its laboratory products.


Medica's sales in the region were up by 1 percent last year, while sales in foreign markets such as Russia and other Central Asian countries climbed 10 percent to 15 percent, said McCollum. He said one cause of the flat growth in Latin American sales for his firm is due to problems finding a distributor in Argentina, where the firm's sales declined last year.


Tom Sommer, president of the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council, known as MassMEDIC, said "the South American market is not the focal point" of the state's medical devices industry. He also said that while his industry group had learned about the trade mission to South America about a month ago, it wasn't a priority.


Latin American countries, Sommer said, often have tricky health-care reimbursement policies that make their markets less attractive than more established markets in Western Europe and the Pacific Rim. However, he said he couldn't pinpoint a reason for the drop in his sector's exports to Latin America last year.


Others were equally perplexed by the decrease.


"I would assume that some of this is due to the fact that economies in some of these countries, such as Argentina, are far from stable," said M. Carolina Avellaneda, an Argentina native and international business lawyer at the Boston office of law firm McCarter & English LLP.


In fact, Argentina was indicative of the change in exports to the region. Medical device exports from Massachusetts to the South American nation were down 17.4 percent from 2005 to 2006, after being up 110.5 percent in the previous year-to-year period.


Overall, Latin America is a small segment of international exports for the state's medical devices industry, making up about 3 percent of the $2 billion in foreign exports recorded in 2006, according to figures from the Massachusetts Export Center. And the state's industry appears to be focused on foreign markets other than Latin America.


MassMEDIC's Sommers returned last week from Dalian, China, where his organization attended a medical devices trade show to promote companies from the Bay State. Last year MassMEDIC made its first trip to China to represent the state's medical devices companies at an industry show in Beijing.


Still, Massachusetts medical devices exports to China were down by 21.8 percent last year, to $26.1 million, according to export center data.


The industry group is also a regular attendee of the world's largest annual medical devices trade show, which takes place every November in Dusseldorf, Germany. Germany is the third-largest buyer of Massachusetts medical devices in the world, and exports to that country grew by 14 percent from 2005 to 2006, to $250.4 million.


Total foreign trade of medical devices from Massachusetts in 2006 was $2 billion, up just 1.8 percent from 2005, the data showed.



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