'One-stop shop for everything': Bustling Canton Fair offers snapshot of China's trade vitality
Published: Oct 24, 2023 09:35 PM
Foreign buyers take a selfie at the 134th session of Canton Fair on October 15, 2023, in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Foreign buyers take a selfie at the 134th session of Canton Fair on October 15, 2023, in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province. Photo: Li Hao/GT

At about 10 am on Monday morning, traffic was gridlocked outside a massive building in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province. Many people were already lining up to enter the building. Inside, people of all nationalities and ethnicities carrying luggage moved around in a hurry. At first glance, this looks more like a busy international airport. But then, a closer look reveals what's really taking place: at stands of various sizes, vendors with calculators and catalogues of products were talking with visitors; visitors occasionally took out their phones to take photos of the products, and some were pushing shopping carts full of samples. 

"I think it's the most important show for us because it is the only show in the world that can provide [a] one-stop shopping for everything. The only show in the world [where] you can find [everything] from a toothpick to a car," William Widjaja, sourcing director of Kawan Lama Group, a conglomerate from Indonesia, told the Global Times on Monday. 

The second session of the 134th China Import and Export Fair, which focuses on showcasing products such as home appliances, gifts and decorations and building materials and furniture, officially kicked off on Monday. More than 9,600 businesses, including over 200 exhibitors from nearly 30 countries and regions participated in the event in-person, setting a new record for the number of on-site exhibitors, China Foreign Trade Centre, the organizer of Canton Fair, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Widely known as the Canton Fair, the trade fair has the largest scale and longest history among an increasing number of expos in China. Given its massive size and long history, the Canton Fair has become a reliable barometer of vitality of China's foreign trade sector. And the bustling scenes at its 134th edition offered more evidence to the strong resilience and solid recovery of China's exports sector, despite the global economic downturn. 

Full of confidence 

At the exhibition, Chinese vendors and buyers from around the world expressed confidence in the steady recovery of China's foreign trade and the overall economic recovery. 

"It is the first day of the fair and we have just signed an exclusive agency agreement with a Dutch company for our newly launched product," Ken Yu, president of Jazzi Pool & Spa Products Co, told the Global Times on Monday. "They really like the energy-saving features and aesthetics of our products." 

Before the 134th Canton Fair officially kicked off, the company has already garnered orders for 100 containers of their products. Overall, in the first nine months of 2023, the company has seen bumper sales, with total sales in the January-August period reaching 290 million yuan ($39.64 million), far exceeding the company's earlier forecast of 200 million yuan in sales for the whole year. Though the company still faces challenges such as rising transportation costs and major fluctuations in foreign exchange rates, Yu remains very confident about the company's business prospects.

"We feel that the economy has bottomed out and rebounded, including the gradual recovery of the international market, so we are more confident in the final months," Yu said, while point to the company's advantages in its complete supply chain, products design and manufacturing as well as "more controllable costs."

Yu's confidence is not without justification. While China's foreign trade has been under severe downward pressure since the beginning of this year due to weak external demand, things have been looking more promising recently. In September, China's foreign trade saw a month-on-month growth for a second consecutive month, with the trade volume reaching a new monthly high this year, at 3.74 trillion yuan. In the first three quarters of 2023, total trade fell by 0.2 percent to 30.8 trillion yuan, but exports grew by 0.6 percent year-on-year, according to official data. 

Gao Lingyun, a trade expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said that China's imports and exports have continued on a path toward recovery since August on the back of a number of policy measures aimed at shoring up the Chinese economy. 

"There are more reasons to maintain a positive outlook for China's imports and exports sector in the fourth quarter," Gao told the Global Times, noting that the period is traditionally a peak season for imports and exports, previous supportive policies will continue to show effects and more policy measures are likely to be released in the fourth quarter to further support the recovery. 

The brightening outlook for China's trade sector translates into improving sentiment and more importantly increasing orders for Chinese trade companies. 

She Ruifen, overseas market director of OPPEIN, a cabinet maker, said that the company's overseas business revenue from January to September this year has reached approximately $33 million, showing a year-on-year growth of around 66 percent.

"We expect that overseas orders will grew by about 70 percent year-on-year for the whole year," She told the Global Times on Monday at the Canton Fair, where the company gets about a third of its total overseas orders. "We still have a lot of orders from clients that are still need to be completed in the next two to three years. So we are relatively confident about our future development." 

High-quality growth

More than just growth in orders, many at the Canton Fair are also seeing major shift in the trend of new products that are much more environmentally friendly and cost effective thanks to continuous innovation. 

Foreign buyers arrive at the venue of the 134th session of Canton Fair on October 15, 2023. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Foreign buyers arrive at the venue of the 134th session of Canton Fair on October 15, 2023. Photo: Li Hao/GT

"I think it is important to participate in the event for so many years because especially nowadays, the technology is changing very fast. Things have been changing a lot from even the last exhibition. If you want to be in business, you need to be here," Osker Axel Oskarsson, a shoe importer from Iceland, told the Global Times on Monday at the Canton Fair, which he has attended since 1986. 

Such a sentiment captures the rapid upgrade of China's export sector from labor-intensive, cheaper products in the past to innovative, high value products. In the first three quarters of 2023, China's exports of mechanical and electrical products grew by 3.3 percent year-on-year to 10.26 trillion yuan, far exceeding the 3.07 trillion yuan in exports of labor-intensive products, according data from the General Administration of Customs. Most notably, China's exports of cars and auto parts surged by 48.2 percent year-on-year.   

Behind such an upgrade in China's massive exports sector is constant innovation undertaken by numerous companies like Jazzi Pool & Spa Products Co despite rising challenges. 

Yu said that challenges the company faced this year further shed light on the importance of technological innovation in staying competitive during a down market. "And so, we have invested a lot of capital and material resources in promoting technological innovation and paid more attention to energy-saving products. We are relatively confident in our sales and products," Yu said. 

Such a confidence comes from growing interests and ultimately orders from clients overseas. 

Widjaja of Kawan Lama Group said that the Canton Fair is the best way to see what the world can offer. "All the minds [are] put together here and innovation [comes] from everywhere, but [they are] definitely [made] in China," he said, noting that of the 3,000 plus containers of products the company imports each month, more than 90 percent comes from China.