Globally, Puerto Rico ranks fifth when it comes to pharmaceutical manufacturing by volume. More than 80 production facilities operated by the world’s largest international brands are located there, in a flourishing industry that dates back to the late 1960s. Pharmaceuticals account for more than half of all Puerto Rican exports, with medical equipment not far behind. High time, then, that all industry stakeholders come together in a Life Sciences Air Cargo Community.
As Jonas van Stekelenburg, Advisor to the Department of Economic Development and Commerce of Puerto Rico (USA), on improving pharmaceutical and medical device airfreight / logistics, stated on
his LinkedIn page: “The hidden champion of the Life Sciences industry: if a doctor prescribes you something, big chance it is coming out of Puerto Rico (USA)!” And not just drugs, but
medical equipment such as defibrillators, bandages, insulin pumps, saline bags, contact lenses, etc. In fact, 90% of the world’s pacemakers originate in Puerto Rico, so you could say the island
is pretty much the heart of healthcare (pun intended!) 90% of all air cargo leaving Puerto Rico relates to life science products, with destinations in more than 80 countries.
In fifth place, globally, Puerto Rico is number one when it comes to bioscience export volumes to the U.S. It is home to 12 of the world’s 20 top-grossing pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Amgen, and AbbVie, and 8 of the 15 globally top-selling biopharmaceutical products are manufactured there.
Launch of a Life Sciences Air Cargo Logistics Community
High time, therefore, to establish a Life Sciences Air Cargo Logistics Community to ensure quality and operational standards. With Government backing through the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DEDC), the Puerto Rico Air Cargo Community has now been formed. It will bring together airlines, airports, forwarders, integrators, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, ground handlers, and truckers, and aims to become the most important Life Science hub in the Americas, as Manuel Cidre, Secretary of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DEDC), confirms: “We aim to put Puerto Rico firmly on the map as the best quality air freight hub for life science in the Americas. The new Community is open for everyone in the supply chain to join and our group will also act as the voice of the industry with legislators and other stakeholders. We have a well-trained, highly adaptable, bilingual workforce and decades of experience in manufacturing life sciences [as well as] the full backing of Customs, and, through cooperation and a focus on sustainable, state-of-the-art, standardized air logistics, we will improve all parts of the shipment journey.”
Certification, Representation, and Awareness
In a first step in this direction, many of the companies joining the new Community have already begun applying for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Center of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) certification process. The first joint meeting of the community is planned for the end of APR23. Three initial aims have already been noted:
- improve the overall quality of air freight-related operations in Puerto Rico by adopting best practices and a standardized way of operating,
- represent the community and lobby on its behalf with legislators and authorities, and
- raise awareness internationally about Puerto Rico’s air freight capabilities and Life Sciences expertise. It will be led by a Community Board made up of community members as well as the DEDC, Invest Puerto Rico, the Industry University Research Center (INDUNIV), Aerostar Airport Holdings, and the Port Authority of Puerto Rico.
The right direction
David Olan, Transportation Lead, Puerto Rico Operations, Johnson & Johnson, said: “We truly believe we’re heading in the right direction. The new Air Cargo Community will give us the forum to define our opportunities to drive consistent and solid supply chain logistics on the island. We will be able to create a more reliable and quality-oriented ecosystem that is aligned with our Life Science and Healthcare sector, and, at the same time, it will help us to meet and/or exceed our customers’ demands.”
And not before time
In recent years running up to the pandemic, Puerto Rico faced increasing tough competition with pharmaceutical production facilities growing in India and China. The pandemic, however, may have brought a Puerto Rican revival once more, as the U.S. began to focus more on re-shoring essential manufacturing in response to the severe supply chain disruptions out of China, in particular. Trump’s Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy and coordinator for the Defense Production Act at the time, Dr. Peter Navarro, tweeted “China FIRED, Puerto Rico HIRED!” in a post on 20AUG20, that promised a return to Puerto Rican pharma manufacturing.
A new life sciences air cargo community is the perfect foundation for an upsurge in pharmaceutical exports, in an increasingly demanding industry.
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