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Sunday, December 02, 2007

The 102nd China Import and Export Fair, Part 2

By Victor Cattermole, Asia Pacific Bureau Chief

Welcome to part two of the 102nd China Import and Export Fair. A recap of the past two days had me with a small group heading from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. The trip itself had been an adventure and we hadn’t even got to the trade show yet.

The show we are visiting is the 102nd China Import and Export Fair, this was formally known as the Canton Fair.

It’s the first day of the fair and the hotel has agreed to provide a bus for us to the fair and back. Initially it was booked for 8:30am as it is one hours ride and the fair opens at 10am. For some reason this time gets changed over night to 9:30am which is not so bad because we have our registration all completed in any case.

Breakfast starts at 8am and we are all sitting and chatting, 9:30 comes around and no bus. By 10am I am getting a little frustrated as the hotel is now saying the bus driver got lost and can’t find his way to the hotel. They have suggested maybe we should get a taxi, but they refuse to pay. Whats amazing is that when something goes wrong in China there is no one about with any authority to rectify matters. The young lady behind the counter has a double masters and a doctorate in poker face negotiations. She has mastered what we call the rule 46 response “can not” effectively she negotiates time and by 11:30 am the bus has finally arrived and we are on our way. Welcome to China.

We finally arrive at part of the fair and the scale has to be seen to be believed. Here are a few rough specifications.

  • Firstly the fair runs for five days, then there is a break for five days where many of the exhibitors move out and new ones move in.
  • The fair is housed in two separate buildings across the city from each other. Quite simply at this stage there is no venue large enough to house the show. I couldn’t find figures on the on the size of the venues but note that one of the pavilions will be increased in size by 800,000m2 for the 103rd fair.
  • This is known as the Autumn fair which is usually the less popular fair. Figures provided by Mr. Xu Bing, the Deputy Secretary General and spokesman for the Canton Fair show, around 190,000 overseas buyers visited the fair, export sales from this fair alone reported at US$37.45 billion.
  • On average there are around 32,000 exhibitors at the fair.

The scale is ridiculous. It would be physically impossible to walk around the whole fair over the 10 days and see everything. I only have two days here and so have planned out carefully who and what I want to see.

There is no doubt the fair has to be seen to be believed.

Construction is underway for two more pavilions in the area we are at which will enable the whole fair to be conducted in one location. The place is swarming with buyers and as we wander around you can see deals being done, order books are out and the customary card swapping is going flat out.

This whole fair is about contacts, I bought about 500 business cards with me and expect to run out, I also bought an empty suitcase just for brochures. A day in this place will exhaust you, the business, walking, noise, smell and just everything drains your energy.

Time to eat again so Sunil and I head to the food court. One thing about a show like this is they are organized and prepared for the scale of the things. Prices in the food court a little high compared with China but still cheap compared with rest of the world, we have 4 great bowls of dumplings for US$6.00. Have to say I am a little cautious about what I eat, last trip here I got as sick as a dog and had to take 6 panadol to get my temperature down so I could get back through Customs to Hong Kong.

The fair closes at 6pm and so we catch the Metro (local train service) to an area called Beijing Lu which is a popular pedestrian shopping area. We wander the shops and have a light bite to eat before heading back to the hotel. Getting back to the hotel turned out to be a bit of a mission. We needed either a van or two taxis, so two taxis came along, we jumped in but they refused to take us saying it was too far. I really had to think about that for a while, we were prepared to pay, but they simply didn’t want the business. In the end a guy with a Suzuki van that comfortably seated 6 took 8 of us back to the hotel.

Next day we are far more organized and the plan is to visit the other location of the fair. This is the area where most of the clothing, textiles and Chinese medicine are on display. The same van driver is there to take us and on time. He is really not confident driving through the main central part of Guangzhou and it really shows. To say some of the maneuvers are hair raising would be an understatement. Chinese like to drive with one hand on the horn and lanes appear to have no real purpose other than to use up excess paint that can’t be used on Mattel toys.

Obviously the driver made a bad maneuver and its not long before he is pulled over by the Police and issued with a ticket and a 20 minute warning. The driver is not so happy, we are now 30 minutes late but that’s ok. We only get 5 minutes down the road and get pulled over again, I think for the same issue. The driver can’t believe it, he tells the police officer that he has just been pulled over and its not fair, the police officer asks to see the ticket and to add insult to injury he just copies all the details on to another ticket. Now we are nearly two hours later than first planned and to top it off the driver starts driving like a granny to ensure no more mistakes.

Finally we are at the show and there are people for miles from all continents of the world. We walk through lines of local people, mostly students, offering their service as translators for anything from RMB$100 a day up. Mostly these kids want experience, it’s amazing to think that on the street though you can just hire someone who can translate for you from Mandarin to pretty much any language you can imagine.

The area we are in provides just a glimpse of China garment manufacture, shoes, textiles and medicine and yet again it would be impossible to see the whole area in the 10 days available. I am fortunate enough to only have a handful of people to see and be ready for the trip back to Hong Kong later in the day.

We decide to eat at McDonalds which is across the road from the expo centre and the queue is amazing, the prices are ridiculously high also for China, like US$4.00 for a Big Mac meal. What we observe though while eating there is a realization of how volatile China can be, a quick scuffle and commotion outside the Mc Donalds followed by Police chasing someone. A purse has been snatched from an unsuspecting visitor in broad day light. Realization that the economic boom that China is in doesn’t necessarily filter down to all of society here.

Finally time has come for us to bus back to Hong Kong, in hindsite I wouldn’t recommend this, we saved about US$5.00 compared with taking the train system but spent like 40 minutes in road works. What was pretty entertaining was the driving after that. This was a 40 seater coach and the driver I am sure thought he was in an Indy car. Once we were clear of the road works there was no stopping him, we went from one side of the 5 lane highway to the other as we wound our way through traffic like a boy racer being pursued by 50 police cars. On arrival at the border I checked with Irene on what she thought of the driving and she thought he was great as we didn’t have a single accident.

The whole trip to Canton Fair was pretty eventful. For the Chinese it’s all about a global network of potential buyers. Some companies are better than others at their client follow up processes. Since returning from the fair the email box has been regularly hit with acknowledgement of seeing me at the fair and promo info on the latest developments from several companies.

The Chinese still have a lot to learn about relationship capital though. In so many ways they are great at copying products but have no idea of the value of service.

Canton fair is a must for all of you in business.

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