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CBBC Insights: Healthcare | Cross-border e-commerce: an answer to animal testing and red tape?

BritCham / CBBC
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By Anna Zhao
Sector Lead for Healthcare and Life Sciences
China-Britain Business Council
British and European companies selling cosmetic products in China are likely to be confronted by the ethical hurdle of animal testing. Those selling medical equipment for domestic use, such as portable medical devices, or supplying healthcare food or supplements, find themselves tied up in red tape. But does this mean no market access to China?
Not if there’s another solution. In this case the panacea is cross-border e-commerce, which offers new routes to market in the healthcare and life sciences industry, especially for healthcare and cosmetic products. The rise of the internet spells the “death of distance” – and it has given this industry a new lease of life.
Cross-border e-commerce will benefit individual Chinese consumers – not just retailers and wholesalers – since they gain access to higher-quality and better value-for-money products such as personal-care products and cosmetics, category I or II medical devices for domestic use (e.g. blood pressure monitors or infant thermometers) and health foods and supplements.
What will cross-border e-commerce mean for British companies?
E-commerce may enable British companies to circumvent some of the registration and filing demands of the Chinese regulators. The classic example is that of animal testing, which the Chinese Government requires be carried out for all cosmetics before they get to market – something which is prohibited in the UK and Europe in view of animal welfare. The UK Government is in ongoing discussions with Chinese policymakers and think-tanks to find a technological solution to replace animal testing, the ultimate goal being a revision of the regulations.
On 27 May, the State Drug Administration increased the registration fee for medical products. E-commerce will enable SMEs from the UK and other countries to enter the Chinese market faster and at less cost; and it is equally applicable to the consumer healthcare-product departments of large multinationals. As explained at a CBBC event on 3 June by speakers from the e-commerce site Kuajingtong and the direct sales department of Sinopharm (both of which are located in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone), foreign e-traders still need to work with Chinese business partners, or to establish their own team on the ground in China, in order to broaden their market and provide the necessary after-sales services.
Nevertheless, with the market developing rapidly and policy direction lagging in comparison, e-commerce in these fields remains rather a grey area. Premier Li Keqiang continues to push the “internet plus” concept, which aims to integrate the latest internet capabilities with technology in various sectors of industry. In my view, e-commerce represents the new “internet plus health” model. Once this model gets going and gains momentum, with the direction and backing of the Chinese Government, clarity will be brought to the grey area, enabling this emerging sector to develop to the benefit of Chinese consumers.
For more information, please contact the author, Anna Zhao, CBBC’s sector lead for healthcare and life sciences in China: anna.zhao@cbbc.org.cn.
  • 个人护理及化妆品;
  • 适用于家庭的I和/或II类医疗器械如血压计、婴幼儿体温计等;
  • 保健食品和膳食营养补充剂。
在某种程度上,发展跨境电商,英国企业或可绕开中国监管当局对于上述产品所要求的注册/备案等程序。其中最具典型意义的是中国政府要求化妆品上市前需进行的动物实验。在英国和欧洲, 出于动物福利等伦理问题的考虑,这一做法是禁止的。英国政府一直在与中国相关政策制定者和智库等合作探索替代“动物实验”的技术解决方案, 并最终希望实现法律法规方面的调整。
然而,由于市场发展很快, 而现有的政策指导相对落后,上述各类产品的跨境电商业务在某种程度上恐仍是“灰色地带”。中国总理李克强一直在鼓励“互联网+”的理念。我们认为这一倡议体现并实践了 “互联网+健康”的新模式。让大家一起努力,把这个新模式做起来,有了量,其所谓的“灰色地带”也会在政府的指导和支持下“洗白”,从而使这块新兴产业健康有序地向前发展,使中国消费者收益。
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