Sluggish Canton Fair upsets official efforts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 April, 2009, 12:00am

A kitchenware businessman from Guangzhou could not believe he and his sales manager Peiman Lin would end up sitting in a half-empty hall at the Canton Fair yesterday.

'How come there are no buyers?' Peter Chen said.

It was a question asked by many of the 700 exhibitors who signed up for the first trade-matching forum that the Ministry of Commerce organised for manufacturers, which hoped to make up some of their losses from the decline in exports by turning to the domestic market.

The 105th session of the China Import and Export Fair, referred to as the Canton Fair, bears witness to the harsh impact of the global financial crisis on mainland business.

The fair, held twice a year, is seen as a barometer of the overseas appetite for Chinese-made goods. The first phase, which ended last Sunday, was met with a lukewarm response.

By last Sunday, only 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. That was in line with gloomy export figures in the first quarter, which dropped 19.7 per cent to US$245.54 billion.

The ministry said it had brought some 200 retailers - major department stores, supermarket chains and wholesalers - to take part in a special trade-matching meeting with exhibitors at the Canton Fair.

It was the ministry's first attempt to help export-hit manufacturers find potential buyers in the domestic market and more than 700 exporters, including more than 100 from Hong Kong, had signed up for the meeting.

Exhibitors arrived at the hall early yesterday morning, only to discover other disappointed manufacturers and some reporters waiting for them. Very few mainland buyers showed up and those that did only showed an interest in Hong Kong companies.

Mr Chen said he had no choice but to turn to the domestic market. 'A major problem with selling goods to mainland supermarkets is that it takes a long time to get the payment. We don't have this problem with exports. But since business is bad, we're trying our luck.'

Polly Yu, who runs a watch factory and retail outlets in Hong Kong, said: 'There were a few enquiries. We had expected to meet more retailers.'

Men Xiaowei , a ministry official, claimed retailers had shown up but left early because they were not interested. Ms Men also blamed mainland manufacturers for lacking the determination to explore the domestic market.

'The Hong Kong exporters are obviously more determined to open up the domestic market. They keep waiting for buyers to come; they didn't leave early.'


At the spring session of last year's Canton Fair, a total of 192,013 buyers turned up

This is the number of overseas buyers to show up at the opening session of the first phase of this year's fair last week: 30,881