After a disastrous turnout in spring, which was precipitated by the Sars crisis, hordes of buyers came flocking to the 94th Chinese Export Commodities Fair in Guangzhou last week. The trade fair, held each April and October, attracts about 400,000 buyers from all over the world. Most were making up for lost time and were willing to pay extra in order to fill up their empty stock space. 'For sure, it's more successful than in April,' said Lui Wei, a manufacturer of Christmas ornaments. 'Things are selling about two per cent higher than normal.' Harley Seyedin, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Guangdong, said: 'There's more activity than there has ever been. Many of these buyers didn't come in April. Their inventories are very low so they are filling up empty warehouses.' According to Mr Seyedin, the trade fairs rake in about US$7.5 billion annually. 'I imagine this year it will be about US$10-US$12 billion by the end of this trade fair,' he said. The trade fair consists of two parts. The first includes exhibits from heavy-industry manufacturers, such as metals, machinery, electronics and textiles. The second half focuses on light-industry products, such as furniture, household goods, arts and crafts, office and outdoor products. Typically, the fair attracts medium- and small-sized overseas companies looking to source and purchase goods for export. In the past, buyers were mostly from North America and Europe, but there are increasing numbers from Africa and the Middle East. Many businessmen from smaller, poorer countries such as Nigeria, for example, set up shop in Guangzhou where they source goods themselves for export to their home countries. Despite the growing trend of find-it-yourself investors, some foreign and local businessmen believe that gatherings like the Guangzhou Trade Fair offer a cheaper, more expedient alternative to sourcing and exporting products in China. 'There's a certain culture about the trade fair that is not found anywhere else in China,' said Mr Seyedin. 'It's like going to a hardware store down the block where you will spend more time and money, or going to Home Depot where you can get everything done in one place and you won't have to spend time going all over to find what you're looking for.' Such trade fairs are a boon to the local economy. Hotels, restaurants and bars do their best business during the trade-fair months. 'I'd say business is about 40 per cent better than normal,' said Rachel Hao, owner of Milano's Italian restaurant in Tianhe. The city recognises the value of the fair; that is why it has been going for more than 50 years. Because of its vital role to foreign trade in China and to the local economy, authorities should make sure it can keep going, even when hit by the unexpected, such as Sars. Creating an online, interactive version would be one way to improve service and prepare for the unknown.