International buyers will be in Hong Kong next week to sample offerings of 540 exhibitors at Asia's largest fashion trade show. The exhibition will feature designer collections for the up-coming year. At least 21 countries and regions will be represented at the exhibition, at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from July 8 to 11. It will feature group pavilions from Taiwan, India, China, South Korea, Macau and Thailand. Industry watchers say they will take careful note of this year's event, largely because it is the first hosting since China was granted full membership in the World Trade Organisation. The impact of China's membership in the global trade body is expected to have positive implications for the textile and retail sectors. The Trade Development Council, a semi-governmental agency that helps in organising the annual exhibition, says the impact of the WTO is noticeable. China's thriving retail sector has led to mainland buyers sourcing labels, licensing designers and searching for clues to next year's fashion trends in record numbers. 'The rapid pace of China's economic development is already changing the nature of our visitors,' says the TDC's manager of fashion services, Patrick Chan. 'There are actually more visitors to the exhibition from mainland China and a lot of these are potential licensees. 'They come looking for brands to licence back home, plus well-designed garments for sale in retail stores. 'This reflects growing prosperity among mainland consumers.' In line with buyer interest, two new sections have been added this year. A Fur Pavilion will feature 23 exhibitors, including representation by the Hong Kong Fur Federation, and the Body and Intimate Wear Pavilion, which will feature seven exhibitors. Two new galleries, Fashion Gallery and Garments and Accessories Mart, have been established to help stream products into their category uses. In keeping with Hong Kong's strategic position in relation to China's industrial muscle, organisers have expended considerable energy to promote the design community in Hong Kong. A series of talks, as well as six fashion shows, will be hosted during the three-day exhibition. 'The Hong Kong Fashion Week aims to consolidate Hong Kong's position as a sourcing hub of Asia for fashion and fashion accessories,' says Mr Chan. 'In the shows we are doing, we want to highlight Hong Kong's design diversity, capability and excellence, whether they are branded fashion or design fashion.' One of the notable events of the exhibition is the Hong Kong New Fashion Collection Award, which aims to encourage Hong Kong clothing enterprises to start their own collections and brands by working more closely with creative talent. This year, 12 selected collections will be presented in front of a prestigious panel of judges comprising industrialists, designers and fashion publication editors. Awards will be given in five categories, ranging from marketability to creativity. As part of the festivities, last year's winner, Moiselle, will present its newest collection and up-and-coming brand 'Blue Heroes'. About 30 Hong Kong designers will take part in the various fashion shows. Designers from throughout the Asia-Pacific region will also be given the opportunity to showcase their collections. Sixteen designers from Indonesia, Taiwan and Hong Kong will take the stage at the Asia Pacific Designers Show, on July 9. In addition, a group of South Korean designers will stage a house show on July 10. Young designers will also get their chance in the spotlight. 'The purpose of this show is to match enterprises with designers,' Mr Chan says. 'We want to encourage closer co-operation between our clothing enterprises and our designers. By doing so, both of them will be able to come up with collections.' Six seminars are scheduled. These include talks to explore such issues as 'Selling your label in Australia'; 'The importance of colour'; '2003/4 Apparel Colour and Trend Forecast; 'Tokyo Street Scene', and talks dedicated to fabrics and upcoming trends.