The 101st Canton Fair, standing as China's largest trade shows, kicked off in south China's Guangdong Province on Sunday, for the first time abandoning its former export bent and also catering to imported commodities.
The massive trade exhibition, known for the past 50 years as the Chinese Export Commodities Fair, has now expanded its remit and is now called the Chinese Import and Export Commodities Fair.
Showing how serious it is to honor its priorities, the fair occurs a month after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao vowed in early March that China would keep adjusting its foreign trade structure and place more onus on imports.
For its inaugural appearance, the import section features the products of 314 foreign companies from 36 countries and regions. These cover many production fields from machinery, automobiles, IT products, household electric appliances, building materials, jewelry and food and agricultural products.
The fair, to run from April 15 to April 30, will welcome at least 6,000 Chinese corporate buyers.
"By adding booths for foreign commodities, the Fair will transmute to become an equal platform for both imports and exports," said Gao Hucheng, vice-minister of Commerce, at the fair.
Gao spoke of China's desire to see more imports of advanced technology and energy-saving equipment and technology. It invites all competent foreign enterprises to import major facilities and equipment into China, saying that the Chinese market will be enriched by such influx.
Lam Tin-fuk, executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, announced that he was leading 40 Hong Kong firms to attend the fair, adding that "the new import section shows that China's foreign trade has shifted from mere export to balanced development of both import and export.
"Having face to face conversation with potential Chinese buyers helps me understand what they want, which is very useful for our products to enter the Chinese market," said Paul Kidwell, general manager of the UK Bathroom Corporation Ltd.
The fair was immediately given a touch of class by the display of sleek cars by Volkswagen, Audi, Ferrari which took centre stage in the 10,000-square-meter exhibition hall, drawing envious eyes from the visitors.
Among the exhibits could be found displays of silverware and garments from Nepal and arts and crafts from Mali, India and Haiti.
Sebastian Kopulande, chairperson of the Zambia-China Business Association, praised the fair "as an opportunity for Zambian manufacturers to expand their business", adding that 37 companies from his country are attending.
Naturally, with a much longer history, Chinese exporters still dominate the fair with 14,430 exhibitors participating, 429 up on the last fair.
The biannual event has a history of brisk trading with over 190,000 buyers from around the world signing deals worth US$34 billion at the last incarnation, revealed Xu Bing, deputy secretary general of the fair, adding that the addition of imports will allow China to increase the products sold nationwide, thus driving down its trade surplus.
In 2006, China witnessed another strong economic year with growth standing at just below 11 percent, mainly due to its exports which rose by 27 percent to US$969 billion. In turn, this dynamited China's trade surplus to a record US$178 billion, up 74 percent from the previous record of US$102 billion set in 2005.
In rapid-fire efforts to lower the surplus, China last September slashed export tax rebates, but the surplus stayed strong at US$46.44 billion in the first quarter of this year. Effects became evident in March when its monthly haul dropped to US$6.87 billion, dipping below the US$10 billion mark for the first time since March 2006.
At a press conference ahead of Sunday's opening ceremony, Xu Bing outlined that the fair would take measures to boost intellectual property rights protection.
Xu announced that any exhibitor found to have infringed on any designs or brands will receive an automatic two-year participation ban, stretching to three years for those guilty of violating intellectual property rights.
(Xinhua News Agency April 16, 2007)