Foreign traders descend on mainland's world's fair

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 October, 2007, 12:00am

After changing three flights within 22 hours, sole proprietor Josue Perez Ramos and some 40 fellow members in a delegation from Puerto Rico finally arrived at the China Import and Export Fair, the country's largest and longest-running trade show, also dubbed Canton Fair.

They were among an estimated 200,000 visitors from around the world and across the mainland pouring into the two-week autumn session of an event that has been held twice a year since 1957.

They came bargain-hunting for suppliers and scouting for trade opportunities amid the mainland's growing prominence on the global economic stage.

Like many overseas visitors, Mr Ramos, a 25-year-old distributor of electronics and car components, made the best use of his first visit to the mainland by spending as much time as possible meeting suppliers, scrutinising the quality and safety standards of their products, attending an electronics trade show in Hong Kong, and visiting manufacturers in Dongguan.

'I used to source auto-parts from the United States, but I find that it's seven times cheaper to source directly from China,' he said after roaming around the Canton Fair for a few days.

'I also want to see what products I can export from my homeland to China. The country is so prosperous that I can see my future career is trading with China,' he said.

The mainland's export-led economy is gaining muscle, with its trade surplus hitting a record of US$185.7 billion and amassing the world's biggest foreign reserves at US$1.43 trillion as of the end of last month.

The state's rising economic power in recent years has breathed new life into the Canton Fair, which faced a decaying role as a key deal-making platform amid the surging popularity of online business-to-business services, such as those offered by Alibaba Group and Global Sources, and outsourcing services by trading firm Li & Fung.

The trade show has regained some of its importance as a showcase of up-to-date mainland-made products ranging from yarn to cashmere cardigans, from bicycles to limousines, from irons to refrigerators and from computer software to building materials.

Although the spring session in April generated record orders of US$36.39 billion, some economists said it was difficult to estimate the total deals to be sealed at the autumn session ending on October 30, given the negative outlook in demand from the United States and global concern over the quality and safety standards of mainland goods.

Following a wave of recent recalls in the US on mainland-made toys, toothpaste, bicycles, seafood and pet food and the slow pace of the yuan's appreciation, some buyers were more cautious in sourcing.

Laurence Jouve, a buyer from France seeking home electrical appliances such as irons and hair-dryers, said she would check if suppliers' quality lived up to European standards prior to placing orders.

'I have collected a list of prices and suppliers and will study the information after getting back home,' she said.

However, many buyers were concerned more about sourcing prices.

Puneet Bansal, an Indian buyer for chemicals to make Teflon coating, made his first visit to the Canton Fair in search of a cheaper supplier and, if possible, visit the supplier's manufacturing facilities, a task he could not complete using online trading platforms.

'It is getting more expensive to buy because of the currency appreciation,' he said.

'But the base of the currency is still relatively low, so my company can afford it for a while.'

He said he would also look for opportunities to sell products to the mainland's more than one billion consumers, a move that the central government more than welcomes.

In an attempt to help reduce the mainland's trade surplus, the Canton Fair is encouraging imports by enlarging the importers' show area 50 per cent to 15,000 square metres and opening its doors to Hong Kong firms.

But the increase is still a far cry from the total export area of 620,000 square metres, which left critics saying that the old export-led habit of the fair died hard.

With growing economic prominence bringing the 50-year-old Canton Fair back into the spotlight, a question looms large.

Will the trade show respond fast enough to cater to buyers' needs as the state encourages relocation of production facilities to the mainland's interior, away from coastal Guangdong, and force manufacturers to move up the value chain?

The jury is still out.

Out of proportion

The export section remains much larger at 620,000 square metres

To promote imports, the fair gave importers a show area of 15,000 square metres, an increase of