Beijing salesman Xiao Cao loves dark chocolate. Every time he goes abroad he stocks up, because the premium chocolate is difficult to find in Beijing.
Thousands of Chinese like him buy clothing, foreign food and cosmetics overseas because the products are either seldom seen in the Chinese market or are priced out of reach even if China has been recognized as a major world manufacturing center.
Behind China's yawning trade surplus, which has frequently been raised since 2005, only a few have realized the huge consumer potential for imported goods in China.
Instead of complaining about "Made in China" products flooding their markets and causing job losses, foreign companies should turn their attention to tapping the Chinese market with their products.
There is strong demand in China for energy-saving and environmentally friendly technologies, products and equipment.
But big breakthroughs in this sector may be difficult to achieve given that some of these products and technologies are subject to export control policies from trade partners like the United States.
Meanwhile, there is also demand from Chinese consumers for a wide range of top-quality foreign products.
Foreign goods exporters are sometimes too cautious in the Chinese market, compared with aggressive foreign banks and other service providers who demand larger market access from the government.
Although top luxury brands are striving to expand in metropolises in the country and many supermarkets are using imported goods to attract customers, imported goods still make up only a small part of China's consumer market.
But from this spring, foreign exporters will have a new platform for the first time they will have their own booths at China's largest expo, the Canton Fair.
The move will see foreign exporters get less than 1 percent of the expo space allotted to domestic exporters at the fair. While it may not have much overall impact, it's a good start.
(China Daily March 27, 2007)