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In a free market, there should be no need to encourage national champions. Markets correct themselves, the theory goes. Consumers will buy the product that is best for them, and the most efficient companies will be the ones that prosper and survive.
The last couple of years have raised many questions about just how well markets work. Lack of regulation and global competition are now largely blamed for the state of the world’s economy. Perhaps, however, there was not enough competition, and the fact that the global market is imperfect may be why we are where we are. Economic theories fall in and out of fashion.
One aspect of economic theory that remains out of favour in much of the world, however, is state intervention in fostering national champions. Indeed, some regions have rules and regulations to actually prohibit this.
So it was with interest that I came across a largely unreported vaccine launch a couple of days ago, that could well be part of such an initiative to build a national champion – good or bad.
It was the launch of a new thermo-stable Newcastle disease vaccine by Brentec Vaccines Ltd in Uganda. Brentec is a company nurtured by the Uganda Industrial Research Institute. The vaccine remains stable for three days after reconstitution, and the government believes that it will help the rural population and aid in the country’s efforts toward industrialization.
It argues that not only will home manufacture result in cheaper vaccines but also help the country with the balance of payments. While I am sure that the former will appeal to the nation’s poultry producers, the latter is of little direct relevance.
The government has pledged that it will develop a whole range of vaccines and wants to encourage experts that have gone to work overseas back into the country to help it develop. So far, however, encouraging them back has been met with limited success. Of course, there can be benefits to producing and sourcing locally. Supply chains are generally shorter with local suppliers, which can lead to greater certainty and predictability. Delivery costs are also normally lower. Local suppliers can also be more reactive during times of high demand when longer international lead times can make it harder to react.
But government-led manufacturing too often fails, due to a lack of economic incentive. Hopefully, the new vaccine will offer producers exactly what they need: a product that is stable, cheap and in plentiful supply, rather than become lost in some grander scheme.