Canton Fair barometer of exports

Updated: 2011-06-01 14:08

By Xie Songxin (China Daily)

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Canton Fair barometer of exports

If you want to learn how China's export engine works, check out the Canton Fair.

Since 1957, the China Export Commodities Fair, as it was called before 2007, has been the most significant biannual shopping event, held every spring and autumn, for foreign businesses importing from the country, and the barometer of Chinese export performance.

The event, held in the Guangdong provincial capital of Guangzhou (previously known as Canton), has also witnessed how China has grown, especially in the past 30 years, from being simply a provider of primary goods such as tea, minerals, flowers and birds, textiles and handicrafts to becoming the manufacturer for the world and the world's largest exporting country.

The fair, previously limited to a few State-owned national and provincial trade arms, is now open to private firms, which have become a major force of China's exports. During the past few years, the Canton Fair has also featured imports.

My wife, who runs a small corporate souvenir business, regularly visits the Canton Fair not only to seek deals, but also to check the trend of products that interest her.

Reporting the Canton Fair has been as important for a business journalist as covering the Olympic Games is for sports reporters, and getting credentials to cover it has never been easy (even today, China Daily gets no more than four to cover the fair).

My first assignment to the fair was for the 1989 spring event, after working for China Daily for four years. I was so excited (it was my first trip to Guangzhou, then the richest and most open city on the mainland) that I spent the whole of pre-opening day running up and down the 170,000-square-meter venue on Liuhua Road (the present riverside venue at Pazhou has an area of 340,000 sq m), and I found myself suffering from a high fever on opening morning.

China Daily used to run a small booth jointly with another Beijing media firm at the corner of one corridor, and two of my circulation department colleagues usually spent two weeks there (the fair ran for 15 days then) promoting the newspaper to foreign visitors.

Because the fair was then open only to State-owned trade firms, it was easy to run across a few of my middle school and university classmates who represented their companies and were negotiating deals with foreign clients. They often became important sources of information for quite a few major deals, and also introduced me to their new products (one of my assignments was to regularly write about new products at the show).

Earning foreign exchange was the key for Chinese trade firms, and those I interviewed at the fair said they had a quota to fill. So they were more interested in the dollars they could earn, rather than the goods they were promoting. Moreover, as most were not manufacturers, they were representing large groups of factories in different sectors because these factories didn't have the right to directly sell to foreign companies.

Today, China holds foreign reserve of more than $3 trillion and is seeking to diversify its investment.

The Canton Fair has now become China's most significant platform for large international deals. While negotiations with importers might have been completed earlier in other cities, the deals are signed in Guangzhou.

Xie Songxing is assistant editor-in-chief of China Daily.



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