AMERICAN pharmaceutical giant Baxter International has signed the first joint-venture deal to manufacture portable dialysis units in China. The US$10 million Guangzhou-based venture will go some way towards helping free up beds currently occupied by hospital-bound dialysis patients, according to Manuel Baez, group vice-president for international hospital operations. During a recent Hongkong visit, Mr Baez said: ''The potential market in China is huge.'' Officially, China has between 10,000 and 12,000 people with kidney disease. In the United States, the figure is 600 for every million people and, in Japan, it is 800 per million. ''I believe our continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) products will improve the quality of life for Chinese renal-failure patients. ''Currently, a renal failure patient in China must stay in hospital to receive dialysis. Because our product is portable, CAPD users can return home and even go back to work. ''Renal patients must have the impurities that build up in their blood during kidney failure removed through dialysis. CAPD allows patients to flush out the impurities using the peritoneum, a membrane that encapsulates the body's internal organs, and adds fresh dialysing solution without using needles or having blood leave the body. ''With CAPD, patients can treat themselves, giving them mobility and independence from hospitals. ''Because we will be manufacturing in China, we'll be able to increase the access of our product to Chinese patients,'' Mr Baez said. ''Hospitals will be able to buy the units in local currency, instead of foreign exchange, allowing more institutions, which currently have difficulty accessing foreign currency, to offer CAPD care to their patients.'' At US$6,000 a year, the price will still make CAPD expensive to most Chinese suffering from kidney disease. The Guangzhou joint venture, called Baxter Heathcare (Guangzhou) Co, will be the first step in what corporate executives see as a major development of the China market. The 3,200-square-metre plant, employing 100 workers, will initially manufacture only CAPD products for domestic use and export to Hongkong. Construction of the plant began tghis month with initial production likely to start in 1994 and full production by 1995. The joint venture will be 75 per cent owned by Baxter World Trade Corporation with the remaining stake being controlled by Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Construction Development Corporation and Industrial Development Corporation of Guangzhou Economic and Technological Development Zone.