Growing uncertainty over the H7N9 bird flu outbreak and regional instability over the Korean Peninsula have put a dampener on prospects for the spring session of China's oldest and largest trade fair, which opens in Guangzhou today.
While the number of deals would remain stable at the China Import and Export Fair - better known as the Canton Fair - the event's spokesman Liu Jianjun said the current uncertainties could affect trade growth.
The biennial fair, which started in 1957 and is held every spring and autumn, runs until May 5. It is one of the largest trade shows in the world and an important event in the global trade calendar, bringing together Chinese manufacturers and global customers. The fair is regarded as a weather vane of the global economy and barometer of China's trade performance.
However, Liu said prospects for global trade were more stable due to the improving economic climate in the US and Japan and the debt crisis in the euro zone remaining under control.
He predicted that the number of visiting buyers would be about the same as the fair's last session, in November.
"There are uncertainties though, including the H7N9 bird flu outbreak and regional instability on the Korean Peninsula which might affect trade growth," Liu said.
"However, China's exports have already been through their worst possible time in 2012. We expect the [export] trend will stabilise - at least, it won't be worse than last year."
Since the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, fair organisers and health officials have stepped up monitoring of disease outbreaks. Mainland manufacturers would confront a number of other challenges this year, Liu said, including a lingering labour shortage that started after Lunar New Year, and the continuing rising cost of raw materials.
Meanwhile, the fair organisers provided a small number of free rooms at the Westin Hotel to buyers visiting the Pazhou International Exhibition Centre in the southeast of the city.
"This is a reward for manufacturers who managed to attract the highest numbers of clients to the fair," Liu said. "We encourage exhibitors to take the initiative to invite more quality buyers."
The mainland's export figures stood at US$182 billion yuan (HK$226 billion) last month, a 10 per cent increase over the same period last year.
The spring fair has attracted 24,200 firms at 59,000 exhibition booths. Results at last autumn's fair were disappointing because of stagnant global demand, rising labour costs and concern over China's territorial disputes.
Deals totalled US$32.7 billion, a 9.3 per cent drop from the April session. The number of international buyers was down by 10.3 per cent.
Sino-Japan agreements fell 37 per cent, due mainly to the lingering territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan calls the Senkakus.