Mainland officials see no light at the end of the tunnel for the embattled export sector as the first part of the country's best-known trade fair ended in Guangzhou with a lukewarm response.
Ministry of Commerce officials said yesterday that the value of the export orders for the first of three parts of the Canton Fair had dropped by 20 per cent compared with October's session.
The second part of the spring session will be held from Friday to next Tuesday, and the third part will be on May 3-7. Known officially as the 105th Session of the China Import and Export Fair, it is held twice a year and is seen as a prime indicator for the export industry.
Guangdong's export-oriented economy has been hit hard by the global economic crisis. The sharp decline in exports also worries top leaders in Beijing.
Premier Wen Jiabao made a quick visit to the fair following his appearance at the Boao Forum in Hainan province and in Shenzhen at the weekend.
Sources said Mr Wen visited two exhibition halls where household electrical appliances were on display and talked to exhibitors.
Fair spokesman Mu Xinhai provided figures detailing a significant drop in business.
Mr Mu said that by Sunday, 82,520 overseas buyers had signed contracts worth US$13.03 billion, a drop in value of 20.8 per cent and a decline in the number of buyers of 5.4 per cent, compared with October's session.
The global financial crisis - which has resulted in weak demand from overseas, especially from developing countries - is regarded by mainland experts and officials as the main cause of the export recession.
'Amid shrinking foreign demand, our exports will remain low in the short term,' Mr Mu said.
According to the official report released yesterday, demand from the mainland's traditional trading partners - the European Union, Japan, Australia and the United States - dropped by up to 38.6 per cent compared with last autumn.
Although buyers from emerging markets such as Argentina, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations planned to import more Chinese-made products, demand from Russia and Brazil, two of the other fastest-growing world markets, dropped by at least 35.1 per cent, the report said.
It also said that the contract value of nine of the 10 categories of products shown at the fair dropped by double-figure percentages.
'We are hoping the central government can deliver more stimulus policies,' said an exhibitor from Ningbo, Zhejiang province, who said her surname was Shen.
Ms Shen said that when Mr Wen entered the exhibition hall, all the exhibitors applauded. She added that manufacturers' main request to Mr Wen and Beijing was for more tax rebates to help them survive and recover from last year's severe hit.
Demand from the EU, Japan, Australia and the US dropped by 38.6 per cent compared with last autumn
By Sunday, 82,520 buyers had signed contracts worth, in US dollars, $13.03b