Growing China an opportunity for Australian companies

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Victoria'a Parliamentary Secretary for Medical Research, Frank McGuire, officially opened the Australia China Health Summit in Melbourne today, describing it as a positive example of the existing strength in the relationship between the two countries

According to Mr McGuire, said the Summit will help raise awareness of Victoria's capability in health and medical research and promote collaboration between the two countries.

Mr Song Yumin, Consul General of the People's Republic of China, the Summit was the first formal engagement on health between the two countries since the recently negotiated US-Australia Free Trade Agreement was signed.

"I'd like to extend my congratulations to AusBiotech and the ACBC [Australia China Business Council] for the initiative of the Summit and for fostering the relationship between the two countries," he said. "China is currently the second largest health care market in the world, but per capita spending remains low....future opportunities abound."

"Health care spending in China has more than doubled since 2006," said Mr Yumin. "Health care spending in China will reach $1 trillion by 2020, up from $350 billion today."

There are currently 194 million people in China over the age of 60, he said, a number that will grow to over 400 million in the years ahead.

Mr Yumin said Australia is well-placed to make a significant contribution to China's growing health system because of its own strong health system, reflected in long life expectancy, and leadership in health and medical research.

Cassandra Winzenried, Senior Economist from the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation, said the long-term prospects for growth in China's health system remain strong despite the recent slowdown in its economy.

According to Ms Winzenried, the fundamentals remain strong, underpinned by its ageing population and rapid growth in health spending.

"Life expectancy is rising quickly," she said, but so is the prevalence of chronic conditions, where management is not as well-developed as in Australia.

Ms Winzenried said China's imports of health care products had risen ten-fold in the past decade.

Mr Jason Chang, President of the Australia China Business Council (Victoria) told the conference the recently negotiated US-Australia Free Trade Agreement represented a significant opportunity for Australian health care providers.

He said the opportunity for Australian life sciences companies was particularly significant, with China set to be the world's largest pharmaceutical market by 2020 with an annual value in excess of US$300 billion.