The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which came to fruition on November 17, will allow Australian architectural and urban planning firms to obtain more expansive business licences so as to undertake higher-value projects in China.

Under the deal, China will take into account Australian experiences in assessing applications for higher-level qualifications. This means instead of having to partner with local companies, Australian architecture firms, as well as those in the real estate and construction industries, will have their qualifications recognised and be able to offer full design services in China.

The extensiveness of access afforded to China’s market under the agreement has been met with some surprise, with chief executive of the Australian Services Roundtable Ian Birks acknowledging that the “sensationally good deal here for the Australian services sector” is “so far beyond what anyone expected”.

Indeed, the announcement appears to quell some earlier fears that the agreement would favour Chinese architects working in Australia rather than Australian architects in China.

Already some practices are welcoming the news, with the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reporting positive responses from firms like Woods Bagot and PTW Architects, which already have independent operations in China.

“You can undertake independently architectural functions from schematics all the way to design execution; it’s the whole spectrum. By having this intensified competition, I think the service levels [in China] will be greatly promoted,” Steve Hu, corporate general manager at PTW told the AFR.

As with architecture firms, Australian developers and investors are expected to be presented with more opportunities for operating in China.

However Paul Berkemeier, Australia’s delegate to the region’s group for architecture bodies, ARCAsia, has expressed some doubts.

Also speaking to the AFR, the Immediate Past President of the Australian Institute of Architects says opening the market would not necessarily bring immediate change, and that the agreement will be most beneficial to those practices with existing connections to the Chinese market.

Some barriers still remain, including the Chinese habit of negotiating fees throughout the job process.