Liu Xuefei, a trader in the southern city Guangzhou, quit his old job of selling Chinese ceramics to Australians and Americans and started to import wine in 2005.
China's exports in general were skyrocketing at the time but he decided to change his business anyway for two reasons. One, he found more and more rich people around him, and two, the United States was urging China to raise the value of the yuan. "I studied economics at college, and felt imports will be a promising business," said Liu.
Three years on, Liu's vision turns out to have been true. He now sells wine to Chinese city slickers who have just started to appreciate the drink, long seen as a mark of Western upper-class lifestyle in a country traditionally dominated by baijiu, or white spirits.
China is now the fastest growing market for wine in the world, and Liu's small company sells nearly 60,000 high-end bottles to Chinese companies eager to satisfy the newly acquired taste of their customers, among them high-end restaurants, airlines and five-star hotels.
Liu is not alone. More and more small and medium-sized Chinese companies have turned to the import business as China's exporters grapple with rising costs. China's domestic demand is also rising fast as deep-pocket urban consumers try to keep up with the latest trends in the world.
Ni Liang, a manager of Alibaba Group, the largest e-commerce trading company in China specializing in global trading, said among the members doing business through his company's online platform, many enterprises that were once in the export business have now moved to import.
Importing consumer goods including foods, high-end textiles and garments are increasing rapidly. Ni sees a lot of potential in the consumption goods import business as Chinese preferences become more international.
One of Alibaba's members is a small trader in Shanghai. Each quarter, the company's employees fly to South Korea to procure the latest designs and sell them to the swish set in Shanghai.
Chinese companies are also purchasing more hi-tech equipment and materials as they move up the value chain. So import in this sector is also on the rise, according to Ni.
Meanwhile, many small and medium-sized foreign brands, eager to tap into the vast market here, are keen to enter China through local traders. According to a research by Alibaba, 22 percent of its foreign members have sold their products in China, and 65 percent said they have potential buyers in China.
(China Daily July 8, 2008)