China Import and Export Fair, also known as the Canton Fair, is held biannually in Guangzhou every spring and autumn. The exhibition, which has been held every year since 1957, is the largest of its kind in China in terms of scale, variety, distribution of overseas buyers and business turnover.
Economic woes dampen Canton Fair opening
Europe and US troubles are added to by the Sino-Japanese dispute over islands in the East China Sea, making for a gloomy opening-day outlook
It was a hot late-summer day in Guangzhou yesterday but some traders might have felt the chill from the global economy on the opening day of the Canton Fair.
Some domestic exporters are worried that a possible drop in the number of buyers this year will add to the difficulties in an already hard year, particularly as demand from Europe refuses to pick up.
Christine Lam, with a Huizhou-based manufacturer of kitchen sinks in Guangdong province, said she saw fewer buyers at the massive exhibition centre compared with previous fairs. She blamed it on the "sluggish overall economic situation".
"Maybe it's just the first day, but it's not a very good opening in any case," she said, "Our company is doing OK, but I know many companies in the industry have had to close down this year as the European market is really bad."
Lam's pessimism is shared by several frequent exhibitors at the fair, which has been seen as the unofficial barometer of the health of foreign trade throughout its 56-year history.
The gloomy economic environment prompted organisers to send out 17 per cent more invitations to overseas buyers this year, taking the total invited to 1.3 million, but that still hasn't helped.
Li Xiaozhong, sales and marketing manager of Vtrek, a Guangzhou-based company that produces mobile electronics, said: "We do feel the pinch as Europe and the United States are our major markets."
Ye Xiaodong, from Monalisa Ceramics, noted that trade protectionism, coming on top of weak demand, was posing the biggest challenge for the company.
"Our normal business has been disrupted in Europe, India and Brazil by rising trade protectionism this year through measures such as anti-dumping investigations and border taxes as these countries want to protect local companies amid a bad economic outlook," he said.
Meanwhile, at least 17 Japanese companies have joined this year's fair despite a lingering territorial dispute between China and Japan over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
About the same number of Japanese companies attended the fair last year, according to Atsuhiko Naoe, an official with Japan External Trade Organisation, a semi-government agency that facilitates foreign trade.
He refused to comment on the fair organisers' fears of fewer Japanese buyers coming to the event, but some Japanese exhibitors said the diplomatic row would definitely harm bilateral trade.
Lin Hai, with San-Ei Seiki Seisakusho, a machine manufacturer, said the territorial dispute had snowballed much more than some Japanese companies had earlier expected, which would be bad news especially for Japanese consumer goods makers.
"Also, there are fewer buyers in general in this hall for overseas exhibitors, and the prospect is not looking good," he said.
Hajime Suzuki, with a software company from Japan, said he was worried that the private sector would suffer from the political spat.