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African attendance surges at the Canton Fair

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So how is the trading environment for China’s exporters at the moment? As a twice-yearly barometer of export health, the 630,000 square metres of exhibition space at the Canton Fair has traditionally yielded some insights.

The news in from this year’s Fair is mixed. The number of companies participating – both Chinese and foreign – decreased by just 1% to 237; while the number of buyers attending saw a 10% year-on-year decline, slumping to 78,296 in the first four days.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about this month’s fair was who came and who didn’t. According to data sourced by the Qilu Evening News, the number of Europeans was down by a third; while visitors from Africa were up by 26%.

Another anecdotal sample comes from an salesperson whose job it was to collect business cards from foreigners exiting the event. By the end of the day he had collected 150 cards, with more than 70% hailing from the Middle East and Africa. An article in Money Week even talks about “Customers from the Middle East and Africa ‘seizing’ the Canton Fair,” with Tianma Import and Export Company general manager, Chen Weili noting: “Our exports in March were on a par with last year, mainly because emerging markets like the Middle East and Africa made up for the slide in orders from the US and Europe.”

This year was also the first in which the Canton Fair – also known as the Chinese Export Commodities Fair – set up a platform for domestic retailers to ‘officially’ buy products designed for export.

Domestic manufacturers may be waking up to the millions of potential customers on their own doorsteps. As an equipment maker from Zhejiang told Money Week: “Facts have proven that the Chinese market is the best market, and that foreign manufacturers are optimistic about China. But we ourselves, however, have neglected it!”.

However, the fair has seen a 21% drop in orders for machinery and electronics products.

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