China is Australia’s largest trading partner – worth $8.8 billion in 2014-2015. China and Australia are also growing partners in science and research and this is an important area for growth in bilateral relations. China is and has been Australia’s key focus for science and research collaboration efforts; generating advances in medical research, biodiversity, net materials for manufacturing and much more.

With a population of approximately 1.4 billion people, China faces immense environmental and social issues – health and wellbeing are among the largest of these. For example, China’s rapid industrialisation has caused a rise in diseases such as COPD, and is also undergoing an epidemic of smoking related deaths of approximately 2000 people/day in China – this number will be well over 8,000 in 2050.

In China, health services are mainly provided by the public system, covering 90% of emergency and inpatient services. China’s healthcare system is organised along four administrative levels: national, provincial, city and county – each level consisting of a health supply system which includes Traditional Chinese Medicine and public health. Community health facilities provide services on prevention, health care, medical care, recurring services, health education etc. where township health centres and village clinics tend to focus on rural residents and provide medical care for common prevalent disease. County level hospitals deal with acute care and basic health service and provide support for township and county level clinics. Large general hospitals at city, national and provincial level are responsible for the treatment of emergent, serious and complex disease; whilst providing medical education and scientific research.

Although China contains various levels of healthcare, the absence of primary care medicine in China as we know it via General Practitioners (GPs), may be one opportunity for Australian companies to expand their services overseas under the new China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA). Australia’s GPs are the cornerstone of the country’s primary healthcare system and the Australian service provision model is ideal for a centrally planned economy such as China’s to adapt, as they are willing to embrace private sector involvement in partnership with government-funded services.

On 17th June 2015, ChAFTA was signed and entered into force on the 20th December 2015. This agreement should secure Australia’s competitive position with its largest trading partner. ChAFTA will allow wholly Australian-owned hospitals, clinics and aged care facilities be established in China; and offer health sector providers to capitalise and/or establish medical service businesses in China. One of the terms of ChAFTA is that more than 85% of Australian goods exports will be tariff free, this includes pharmaceutical products such as vitamins, health products and medical devices. In 2014-2015, Australian exports of hearing aids and implantable medical devices into China amount to $49 million and this agreement is expected to grow this segment.


On a global scale, Australia’s health and medical care system has been recognised for its world class medical research and healthcare infrastructure. As ChAFTA comes into force, significant opportunities for Australia-China partnerships in pharmaceuticals, medical technology, hospitals, research and development and age care will be presented. Although the Chinese rely heavily on the public health system when treating diseases, there is an opportunity for Australia to complement China’s healthcare. ChAFTA will become a vehicle for which Australian enterprises can explore new areas of cooperation with China.