Overseas buyers at the opening day of the mainland’s largest trade show gave products low marks for innovation, but high marks for quality and affordability.
The twice-yearly Canton Fair, seen as a barometer for Chinese exports, failed to attract the crowds domestic traders had hoped for on its opening day on Wednesday.
For the first week of its three-week run, the fair centres on home appliances, electronic goods, construction materials and machinery. In the second week it switches to gifts and home decoration and in the third and final week it features garments, shoes and food.
“I’m not impressed by any of the electronic products I found here,” said Udomdech Tantipisit, a buyer from Thailand on his first visit to the fair.
“I had seen all of the products already … It’s hard to call them innovative.
“But the products are cheaper than in Thailand, by about 15 per cent. I’m still interested in placing orders.”
David Miller, from Australia, said he had attended the fair “for years”.
“I can see the Chinese manufacturers have been trying to improve their products’ quality,” he said. “But they are still not leaders when it comes to innovation, especially in building materials.”
He said China was still the best cheap manufacturing hub. “It’s true there are cheaper products in Thailand and Vietnam, but the quality is poorer for the type of products I source,” he said.
The operator of the fair said there would be several forums and events to promote high-end and innovative Chinese products and brands.
But many overseas buyers said the forums would be of little interest as guests would be speaking Chinese.
“I did not notice the billboards for the forums because most of the descriptions are in Chinese,” said Diana Villareal, a buyer from Brazil.
She had been searching for manufacturers of industrial vacuum cleaners through the fair’s centre for new products.
The centre is a new feature of the fair this year aimed at promoting domestic traders’ latest products, but some visitors complained that traders had been allowed to advertise old products by paying a fee.
“I thought I would be surprised by new designs and products, but it’s just advertising,” said Villareal.
Many domestic traders in building materials, construction machinery and electronic products said they had experienced a fall in orders. They said only leading companies would be able to afford research and development given the tough economic climate.
“Our overseas orders in the first three months of this year dropped 40 per cent from the same period of last year,” said a sales representative of Beijing Pustar Development, which produces steel nails.
“Our long-term clients tell us the demand keeps dropping in their countries,” she said. “The cost of steel is fine. But labour costs and rent are soaring in China. Our profit margins are already very low.
“It’s just the first day of the fair. We need to wait and see. But those overseas buyers are very picky to get lower prices, at least five per cent lower than last year,” she said.
Li Long, from the Dongguan Qishenglong Electronics, which produces Bluetooth products, said his company had also seen foreign orders drop this year due to the economy.
“We are trying to launch new products. But small factories like us cannot invest much in innovation. The efficient way is still to copycat the top selling products in the market,” he said.