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China eyes shared opportunity ahead of upcoming online Canton Fair

Jun. 12, 2020

China's oldest and largest trade fair is bracing for a new form of "cloud exhibition" from June 15 to 24 as part of efforts to stabilize global supply and industrial chains amid uncertainties in global trade due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Canton Fair, also known as the China Import and Export Fair, was held every spring and autumn in Guangzhou, capital of southern China's Guangdong province, since its founding in 1957, and has been seen as a barometer of China's foreign trade.

This year's online session of the fair, its 127th edition, affirms the country's commitment to free trade and the multilateral trading system in tandem with virus containment measures.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered the global economy, the World Trade Organization expected this year's global trade to fall by between 13 percent and 32 percent.

The pandemic is also taking a toll on the world's second-largest economy, as the country's foreign trade in goods dropped by 4.9 percent year on year to 11.54 trillion yuan ($1.63 trillion) in the first five months, official data showed.

"The 'cloud Canton Fair' will meet demands at home and abroad," said Zhuang Rui, vice-head of the Institute of International Economy at the University of International Business and Economics, adding that both domestic and foreign enterprises have intense need to further expand business through the internationally recognized trade platform.

The online Canton Fair will help foreign trade firms increase orders, stabilize international market share and smooth the production and sales chain, Li Jinqi, director general of the China Foreign Trade Center, told a press conference Wednesday.

David Morand, a French buyer who has participated in the Canton Fair for 15 consecutive years, said the country's decision to host the exhibition entirely online is a major innovation for the global trade.

Zhuang said China's burgeoning digital economy also enables the country to hold an online trade fair. Over the past years, the development of new technologies, including the internet and big data, has breathed new life into foreign trade, spawning emerging trading models such as cross-border e-commerce and livestreaming selling.

The upcoming session of the Canton Fair will provide around-the-clock services, including online exhibition, promotion, business docking and negotiations, Li said.

Meanwhile, exhibitors are jumping on the livestreaming bandwagon to accelerate digital transformation, while some enterprises move the studio to their workshops to exhibit assembly lines for customers worldwide.

The fair, including 50 exhibition areas based on 16 categories of commodities, will attract some 25,000 Chinese enterprises, which can present their products in various forms such as images, videos and 3D formats, according to organizers.

As the fair's technical service provider, tech giant Tencent will provide overall technical support to facilitate buyers to start instant communication through formats including online conference, video, voice, text and graphics, and schedule an appointment in advance to mitigate the effect of time difference, according to the firm's project leader Dong Kai.

Foreign buyers can register on the 24-hour livestreaming platform and start purchase negotiations at any time during the exhibition period, as all enterprises are exempted from paying exhibition fees to bolster international trade and yield win-win results.

Despite lockdowns easing in some countries and regions, it will still take time for demand to recover, as there are increasing uncertainties in global trade, said Zhang Li, an official with the Ministry of Commerce (MOC).

To stabilize foreign trade and investment, China has introduced a string of measures, including financing support and simplified procedures.

While consolidating business with developed economies, China also aims to tap emerging markets, with the fair stepping up invitations for firms from countries along the Belt and Road (B&R), said Zheng Jianrong, head of the bureau of commerce in Guangdong.

The Canton Fair will continue to set up import exhibitions, where exhibitors and products from B&R countries account for 72 percent and 83 percent, respectively.

The country pledged to make targeted efforts to support exporters in selling their goods in the domestic market and to expand imports to promote quality development of foreign trade, said Zhang of MOC.