Despite a ban on direct selling in China, sales reach eight billion yuan, 20pc of world total Shanghai Amway Corp said yesterday China had become its largest market, accounting for 20 per cent of global sales, despite a five-year ban on the direct selling method it uses worldwide. In the year to August 31, Amway's sales in China were eight billion yuan (HK$7.4 billion). Sales of its Nutrilite products last calendar year totalled three billion yuan, accounting for almost 17 per cent of China's 19 billion yuan food supplement market. Previously released sales figures for Amway in China for each calendar year were 2.5 billion yuan in 2000, four billion yuan in 2001 and six billion yuan last year. The figure for this calendar year will exceed eight billion yuan. In its annual report for the year to August 31 last year, parent Alticor said Asia delivered more than 60 per cent of global revenue, with strong increases in South Korea, India and Thailand as well as China. However, Japan, Europe, the United States and South America saw a difficult year. Amway's China figures are remarkable for the fact that Beijing banned direct selling in 1998. The decree was issued due to widespread fraud and irregularities by domestic firms using this method. The government was also nervous of large associations of people it could not control. Amway negotiated an agreement with the government under which it opened stores, 'which it does not have abroad', and was allowed to sell through approved representatives. During the talks, it pointed to its large investment at a factory in Guangzhou, which has now reached US$220 million. It has 112 outlets and 90,000 sales people, mostly part-time. Their monthly income is more than 1,000 yuan, double the level at the beginning of last year. Stores make up 60 per cent of sales. The remainder goes through the representatives. Abroad, sales people can recruit others to sell for them, but in the mainland, the regulations state that only the company can hire new representatives. The company attributes the strong growth in sales to the sales force, public demand for health products, as well as advertising and sponsorship, including a 10km run in Shenyang, Shanghai and Guangzhou in September, in which more than 80,000 people took part. It recently launched a television commercial for its Nutrilite products featuring Olympic diving gold medalist Tian Liang. Sars also helped by making people want more health goods. Stocks of Nutrilite ran out, forcing the company to spend more than US$1 million on flying raw material from four organic farms in the US, Mexico and Brazil where the plants used to make it are grown. Amway would prefer to use its traditional methods in China. 'The ban represents our biggest challenge,' Doug DeVos, president of Alticor, told a meeting in Beijing last weekend. 'We hope that China can use international direct selling standards and allow the use of methods that follow international practice. If so, we can use our traditional methods of business.'