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China’s Open Door for International Trade

China is a country of 1.3 billion people serviced by 30,000 optometrists – that’s one optom for every 43,333 people compared to one optom for every 4,500 people in Australia. In an exclusive interview, mivision spoke to Mr. Weiping Dai, the Secretary-General of the China Optometric and Optical Association about his country’s changing eye care profession.

China’s optical industry may already be a giant but there’s still room for growth and its growing fast. Eyewear manufacturing is booming with some individual factories employing as many as 10,000 people and producing 12,000,000 branded frames each year. Investment in technology is a high priority as China builds an industry to feed its massive local market and an insatiable foreign market.

Despite an increasing incidence of myopia, the number of optical doors in China has decreased in recent years. That’s not to say that services are being reduced. Rather, it’s indicative of a new era of eye health provision that must comply with stricter controls on training, equipment and overall quality of care.

According to Mr. Weiping Dai, the Secretary General of the China Optometric and Optical Association (COOA), instead of the tens of thousands of small optical retailers that once operated throughout China, today there is a greater presence of larger operating groups. “This is good because the government is focussing on quality. Those who can’t reach the required standards are closed down or made to merge,” said Mr. Dai.

With such a vast country… and a government focussed on supporting… local economies, it is clear that China’s optical manufacturing capacity will continue to grow

Increased Training

In line with its focus on improving quality, training for optometrists and optical dispensers in China has been formalised.

“The old way of operating – a disciple or student learning from a master is fading,” said Mr. Dai. “Many people now go through universities before they can become an optometrist or optical dispenser. We have five categories of optometrists and four for optical dispensers; these categories indicate the level of training achieved.

“For those who did learn in the traditional way, we have a very detailed training program they must undertake to continue to practice – it covers the content and
the hours.”

Despite this focus on training, Mr. Dai says there is still some disparity in the level of eye care services available between regions. “Some areas are more developed than others, so in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, the qualifications are similar to those in Australia. In remote areas, the requirements may be lower – there is room to develop.”

Despite this disparity in qualifications, Mr. Dai says satisfactory eye care treatments are now available right across China. “It is very rare that anyone in a rural area needs to travel to a city for eye treatment,” he said.

Wealth Explosion

There’s no doubt that China is a country of extremes. While there are still pockets of poverty, there is also enormous wealth and a desire for western offerings. Consequently many Chinese consumers are motivated to pay for the status and prestige of luxurious international brands. In fact the Chinese optical industry estimates that by 2015, China will become the world’s largest luxury goods market and 29 per cent of the globe’s luxury product consumption will come from this country. Already China is one of the biggest consumer markets in eyewear and sunglasses.

Contact lenses are also popular, and just as is the case around the world, many customers purchase theirs online. In China, demand is such that this is not a concern. “There is room for both online and retail shops to co-exist. But as far as we know, more contact lenses than spectacles are sold online. People still prefer to go to opticians for their spectacles – they prefer face to face consultations,” said Mr. Dai.

In China eye care consultations are paid for by the individual. Free eye care is only available to people with disabilities.

Manufacturing Expansion

For China, 2011 marked the beginning of its 12th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development. As part of that plan, the Chinese Optical Industry is focussed on growth and quality production. Chinese manufacturing enterprises and agencies are investing in the latest and best technology, machinery, materials, components and accessories to meet the demand of the expanding local market.

Mr. Dai said that with factories now using the “highest technologies available, our quality of manufacturing is not much different from that of the rest of the world.” However, he conceded, “there will always be disparities between individual factories.”

As with all countries, increasing costs of operation in big cities is forcing change and so, as a result, some factories are beginning to relocate to more remote areas. Mr. Dai says “it all boils down to economics” and that while factories are not being mandated to move into rural areas, government officials welcome the shift.

“The arrival of factories in these areas gives remote communities an opportunity to grow which we welcome, but manufacturing for the high profile brands will most likely remain in coastal areas where there is the greatest control of quality,” he said.

Open Doors to World

With such a vast country, an enormous population and a government focussed on supporting its people by expanding local economies, it is clear that China’s optical manufacturingcapacity will continue to grow.