Foreign buyers dwindle at Canton Fair
Updated: 2012-10-23 02:08
By Zheng Yangpeng in Guangzhou (China Daily)
Organizers are gloomy over attendance and turnover
Outside the huge exhibition center staging China's top trade fair, the endless queues are as spectacular as the venue itself.
But this autumn, the spirits of those in the queues at the Guangzhou International Convention and Exhibition Center, who are mainly students seeking jobs as interpreters, have been dampened by the dwindling numbers of foreign buyers at the biannual Canton Fair.
"I traveled more than two hours by train from Shaoguan to Guangzhou. I stood here for a whole day but still didn't get a job," Wang Qi, a 22-year-old college student, said as she paraded a strip of cardboard bearing just one word: "Espanol (Spanish)!"
Efforts have been made to attract more buyers, with the event organizer saying it sent out invitations to 1.3 million overseas enterprises this year, an increase of 17 percent on the spring session and a sign of the growing eagerness to woo foreign buyers as demand from overseas drops amid global economic woes.
Domestic vendors have also been keener to take part, a sign of exporters' increasing desire to tap the overseas market, said fair spokesman Liu Jianjun.
Though organizers have tried to sound an upbeat note about the fair's attractions, including more booths reserved for well-known domestic brands, they admit they are not optimistic about the attendance and turnover figures.
The number of participators and turnover will be announced at the end of the fair on Nov 4.
Inside the venue, the areas between the booths are not as crowded as before.
Qiu Zhen, sales manager of a solar energy street lighting manufacturer from Qingdao, Shandong province, said anti-subsidy investigations launched by the US and EU into China's photovoltaic industry had affected her company's business.
Some vendors have complained about lackluster business.
"Many came here just to look at the price, and their bidding price is unreasonably low," a sales manager for an aluminum alloy producer said.
"There are not as many European and US buyers as before. Now most buyers come from Asia, Latin America and Africa, and are more sensitive to prices," he said.
Zahir Abedin, a Bangladeshi buyer looking for sanitary fittings, said he has been attending the fair for eight years and the latest attendance is poor.
"If you are coming here for the first time you will feel there are many people. But if you had been here a few years ago, you will feel the opposite," he said.
Statistics from the organizers confirmed the impressions of vendors and buyers.
During the first four days of the fair, the number of buyers attending fell by 11.4 percent from the previous session in the spring.
A closer look at the statistics shows machinery and electronic goods, a mainstay of China's exports, registered a slower growth rate during this session, with transaction values with Europe down 23.1 percent and even Africa, a traditional booming market, sliding 0.1 percent.
But against this overall bleak backdrop, some industries and enterprises have delivered better results.
Zhang Wenxiao, a sales manager of Vtrek Group, a car audio & video product manufacturer based in Guangzhou, said business was as good as usual, with the company's products selling well in all world markets.
"If you divide the foreign trade into sectors, you can see not all sectors are that bad," he said.
Farhad Hosseini, an Iranian buyer, said China's products remain attractive.
"The good thing about China's products is they offer a variety of choices, from high price to medium price to low price," he said. "The problem is our payment ability. Because of international sanctions, our liquidity is greatly constrained."
Many exporters also complain about delayed payments from foreign buyers.
"Delayed payment has always been a problem," Zhang from Vtrek Group said. "We also have to wait a long period for the arrival of the tax rebate. So though business is generally good, we are always short of cash."
The government is aware of these problems.
In September, to boost foreign trade, the State Council issued a series of measures, including speeding up export tax rebates, reducing administrative costs for companies, lowering financing costs for small and micro-sized enterprises and increasing credit to exporters.
But it has also sounded a note of caution about the effect of these measures.
Fair spokesman Liu said exporters' business would not change overnight but there are hopes they will be cushioned and have more time to transform and upgrade their businesses. "We have a grim outlook for China's foreign trade in the coming months as the world economy keeps declining," Liu said.
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