Canton Fair down in numbers, up in spirits

The country’s biggest trade fair wrapped up this week with disappointing numbers but buoyant hopes for an upturn, according to local media. This was for two reasons: the US-China trade talks appeared to be edging toward an agreement that could see tariffs start to be lifted; and there had been a surge in orders from Asean countries, i.e., the Belt and Road Initiative appears to be working.

Nothing could dampen the mood of the fair’s irrepressible spokesperson, Xu Bing, deputy director of the China Foreign Trade Centre, who pointed out that although orders were down 1.9% in comparison to last year’s Fall session, they were up from the Spring session held earlier this year: RMB 207.09 billion vs RMB 199.5 billion.

Moreover, although attendance of 186,000 was the lowest since 2017, the 2% decline was less than the 3.9% year-over-year drop at the Spring session.

Filling in for the loss of Americans was representatives of southeast Asian countries who came with their checkbooks, with orders surging nearly 30% to US$3.4 billion.

It wasn’t only in Guangzhou that traders were sounding upbeat. In Shanghai, delegates from Guangdong attending the China International Import Expo more than doubled, according to local media.

This may have had more to do with this year’s expo, the second, being somewhat better organized than the first, which made a messy debut last year amid high expectations. Still, the Guangdong delegation sounded upbeat and said it was looking forward to opening a Greater Bay Area pavilion at the fair today.

Foreign investors, on the other hand, are sounding more sanguine. As SCMP reports, a survey from the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China released this week showed that while many European firms who came to the expo last year returned in 2019, they hoped the event could produce more tangible deals than just headlines. Half of them said that last year’s expo did not live up to expectations.

The survey found that 47 per cent of deals reached by European businesses at last year’s Import Expo had not been realised.

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