Australia's Ramsay in talks to test China's private healthcare market

SYDNEY Thu May 2, 2013 3:13am EDT

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SYDNEY May 2 (Reuters) - Ramsay Health Care Ltd, Australia's largest private hospital operator, is in talks to invest in China's private healthcare market, banking on increasing demand for quality healthcare from the country's growing middle class.

Ramsay, which sealed a joint venture deal with Malaysia's Sime Darby Bhd in March, has been reviewing opportunities around Asia, particularly China, and expects to make its move in the near future, Ramsay's managing director Chris Rex said on Thursday.

"There are a number of potential opportunities in China, which I would hope we would start to be able to execute over the course of next two to three years," Rex told Reuters on the sidelines of Macquarie Equities Conference in Sydney.

"There are lots of organisations, both government and non-government, who are in the process of doing something and want to link up with an international health player to make things happen," Rex said, declining to talk about specific parties.

China's healthcare sector has been overwhelmingly dominated by government-owned public hospitals, and restrictions on foreign ownership were only lifted at the end of 2011, according to the country's top planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission.

"I think it's just uncharted territory, so whilst a lot of regulations have changed to allow it to happen, to actually execute that in a local circumstance is still to be tested," Rex said.

China represents a "fantastic opportunity" for healthcare companies around the world, with its emerging middle class and aging population, he added.

Ramsay, which operates 116 hospitals across Australia, the United Kingdom, France and Indonesia, was also was well positioned to make further acquisitions with more than A$1 billion ($1 billion) in uncommitted debt facilities, Rex said. ($1 = 0.9720 Australian dollars) (Reporting By Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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