China’s top import fair reports first contraction since debut in 2018 as slowing economy, Covid-19 hits deal-making

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China’s largest import trade fair ended on Wednesday with year-on-year deal value declining for the first time since the event debuted in 2018, as deal-making was hit by a slowing economy and stringent measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chinese companies bought US$70.7 billion worth of goods during the China International Import Expo (CIIE), a decline of 2.6 per cent compared with last year’s US$72.62 billion, the organiser said on Wednesday.

The six-day event, the world’s largest trade fair featuring overseas goods and services, drew 480,000 visitors from November 5 to 10. The annual event held in Shanghai has been designed to encourage purchases of imported goods and services by mainland companies as a way of showing Beijing’s willingness to further open up its markets.

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Tang Yunyi, a researcher with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, played down fears about dwindling deal value, highlighting the CIIE’s role in bringing the world’s latest technologies and new business models to China.

The China International Import Expo’s trade in services exhibition section drew over 300 businesses from over 50 countries and regions. Photo: Xinhua
The China International Import Expo’s trade in services exhibition section drew over 300 businesses from over 50 countries and regions. Photo: Xinhua

“The event has been evolving as a big stage for global companies to display the latest technologies and products,” she said. “It also creates opportunities for them to land on the Chinese market.”

The organiser said that the pandemic had a negative impact on deal signing, without elaborating.

A record number of exhibitors from 127 countries and regions took part in the show. More than 2,900 companies displayed their goods and services at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in the city’s southwestern Songjiang district with total exhibition area covering 366,000 square metres.

This year, 281 Fortune 500 companies ranging from Tesla to General Motors and Unilever to Nike took part.

The event coincided with a surge in Covid-19 cases on the mainland, which prompted some local authorities to impose lockdowns and travel restrictions. The Shanghai government required all domestic participants to be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before entering the expo venue. They were also required to provide a negative Covid-19 test certificate taken two days before entering the venue.

Overseas participants had to undergo a 21-day quarantine along with multiple tests for Covid-19 before they were accredited.

An exhibitor arranges products at the China International Import Expo. Photo: Xinhua
An exhibitor arranges products at the China International Import Expo. Photo: Xinhua

Although the official number of visitors this year was 20 per cent higher than last year’s 400,000, three exhibitors said that they received fewer guests than last year.

China’s economy expanded 4.9 per cent in the third quarter from a year ago, slower than the 7.9 per gain in the second quarter and the 18.3 per cent expansion in the first.

Delta variant outbreaks, regulators’ tightened crackdown on various sectors such as private tutoring services, a funding crisis involving property behemoth China Evergrande Group and a power crisis that affected most provinces dragged the growth of the world’s second-largest economy between July and September.

Tesla success at China import expo may push it to expand Shanghai production

While car and machinery companies said they saw lower foot traffic this year, consumer brands, from cosmetic firms to confectionery makers, maintained their intimacy with visitors. Visitors could be seen queuing up for up to an hour outside Estee Lauder’s booth before getting a chance try on its latest cosmetics.

“For multinationals, the fair is not only an important occasion to increase brand awareness, but also to build closer bonds with partners to jointly drive business growth in China,” said Markus Steilemann, chief executive of Covestro, which produces hi-tech plastics for industrial applications.

The China International Import Expo attracted over 2,900 companies from 127 countries and regions. Photo: Xinhua
The China International Import Expo attracted over 2,900 companies from 127 countries and regions. Photo: Xinhua

Despite smaller deal values and worries about an economic slowdown, most exhibitors said the event was a good opportunity for networking and promoting businesses. The organiser said 150,000 square metres of exhibition space for next year had been booked already.

Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, suggested Beijing take a more active stance on opening up to attract more foreign investment and technologies.

“The biggest risk for foreign businesses is not being in China,” he said, adding that multinational companies will continue to increase investment in China as long as they can improve their performance.

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