News analysis: CIIE a window to foreign companies into Chinese market
Published: Nov 11, 2021 09:08 PM
Intl food producers attract Chinese consumers at CIIE.Photo:Li Hao/GT

Intl food producers attract Chinese consumers at CIIE.Photo:Li Hao/GT

A visit to the China International Import Expo (CIIE) will leave your heart throbbing.

After covering the CIIE for two years, I was lucky to return to the fourth edition of the expo on the ground.

To be sure, the expo is a great experience. Housed inside the gigantic clover-shaped National Exhibition & Convention Center (Shanghai) near the Shanghai Hongqiao airport, the expo is the world's largest import fair. 

In fact, it is estimated that the show will become the world's largest trade event in terms of display floor space in a few years, surpassing the Canton Fair, the world's current No.1. 

Both the world's largest export expo and import expo are located in China, thanks to the country's status as the world's largest trading nation. 

When I first arrived, the sheer size of the convention center dazzled me. I entered a giant exhibition hall and I was immediately immersed in the fanfare. 

Dancing, singing, wine-tasting and food-sampling… flocks of professional buyers lining up outside booths of the world's leading food companies to have a taste of delicacies. Amid the noise and fanfare, signing ceremonies for intended purchases were held here and there in an endless succession. 

Confidence-beaming C-suite executives sat down with their counterparties to sign deals, and as if in a ritual, the host of the event would recite the company's long (sometimes short) history of successful and fruitful business in China. 

This was just the area for agriculture and food. There were also halls for cars, consumer goods, healthcare and medical equipment, technology and machinery, and also country-specific zones for merchants from nearly 130 countries and regions. Each of these halls was filled with booths belonging to foreign companies, big and small. 

Even though I cover business topics, I was surprised that many names, products and services were new to me. That's only for big companies. 

For the hundreds of small and middle-sized companies, the CIIE platform is the place where I first came to know them. One German company sells nearly 100 types of brushes for every sort of purpose one could imagine, while another sells over 100 kinds of pincers to grasp all sorts of bolt.

Companies like these stand a good chance to benefit from Chinese consumers' consumption upgrading in pursuit of a better life. 

A Canadian merchant who sells specialized cases for mountaineering confided to me that a niche market in the Chinese market equals an entire big market elsewhere. 

The fourth edition of the CIIE was affected by the COVID-19 epidemic's restrictions on international and domestic travel. The visitor numbers were low compared with the 2020 edition. 

Yet for foreign company executives who lined up for online interviews, the epidemic will only temporarily stop them from meeting their prospective customers in person. In fact, they vowed to come in person as soon as conditions allow. 

Deals aside, simply meeting new associates and keeping in touch with old ones is a great way to nurture and groom a business. To me, the CIIE is a library, a carnival and a feast; a place to see, hear and taste the unknown. To many foreign companies, the CIIE is the window to China, a market where they generate the fastest growth.

Even the volunteers offered a delight. Their eager exchange of the pins they have collected through each expo indicated the insatiable demand of a young generation of Chinese to try out new products and ideas. This is surely great news to a world facing deflating demand.