Here we are at the last edition of the year. It's been an eventful one for the building design industry but if I had to choose a signature theme for 2015, it would be the year of globalisation.

What do I mean?

Well, there's a good chance you've seen Steve Evans from Leffler Simes Architects pop up on your TV in recent times, talking about the great opportunities to do building design business in Asia. 

If you haven't seen the advertising I'm talking about, the government has sponsored a major national publicity campaign promoting the benefits of the three separate Free Trade Export Agreements between Australia and Korea, Japan and China. 

In the architectural sector, they're particularly keen to promote the opportunities for Australian businesses in China.

Leffler Simes - perhaps best known for their prowess with bulky goods retail projects for the likes of Ikea and Harvey Norman - have become something of a poster child for the campaign.

The Sydney and Melbourne-based practice is one of several from Australia who have been making serious inroads in China over recent years.

There are of course the high profile examples like the PTW-designed Water Cube aquatic centre, one of the stars in the Beijing Olympics. And the large practices like Woods Bagot and Hassell with offices in Asia.

What's become evident is that small and medium sized firms are able to establish themselves in these huge Asian markets. CK Designworks has done it China. Leffler Simes too. But the extent of the work they could carry out there has been quite limited. Until now.

The new China Australia Free Trade Agreement - or ChAFTA, as some call it - means wholly foreign-owned Australian companies can undertake a range of defined projects anywhere in the country. And if they have a base in the special Shanghai Free Trade Zones, they will have a chance to undertake the really big, high value projects.

Leffler Simes, for example, now goes from offering conceptual design to delivering full service architecture work.

On the other side of the coin, however, there are risks involved in the FTAs.

Many industry players are warning it could exacerbate the problem of non-compliant building products entering the country, including everything from glass and steel to manufactured wood, windows and imitation electrical goods.

As we've reported throughout the year, the costly and dangerous problems are a huge and growing concern for those responsible for the quality of Australian buildings.

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