Free-spending shoppers stock up on premium consumer goods as US$71 billion worth of deals are signed at China import expo

Daniel Ren

A buying frenzy saw thousands of shoppers stocking up on imported consumer products ranging from milk and wine to apparel and jewellery at the high-profile China International Import Expo, giving a helping hand to Beijing’s efforts to combat an economic slowdown through a “consumption upgrade”.

Jane Kong, 40, bought a wide range of products – processed meat from Uruguay, honey from New Zealand and plum wine from Japan at the expo in Shanghai, but she was also disappointed as many of the items that she had her eyes on were sold out.

“It is worth spending a day to hunt for good food products and daily necessities here,” she said. “You need to move fast to spot the good items and buy them. Otherwise you will miss them.”

The CIIE, in its second year, was designed for mainland companies to buy more imported goods as a way of striking a trade balance amid the gruelling 15-month long US-China trade war.

Visitors pose for photos during the second China International Import Expo at the National Exhibition and Convention Centre in Shanghai. Photo: Xinhua

“Chinese people are no longer price sensitive, and we are willing to spend thousands of yuan on high-quality food products,” Kong said. “I have the faith in consumption upgrade and believe the economy will remain healthy due to increasing spending.”

The Chinese authorities use the phrase “consumption upgrade” to describe the growing demand for high-quality, higher-priced goods and services.

China expects more US companies to join Facebook, Microsoft and Boeing at import expo, despite trade war

China’s economy has been feeling the effects of the trade war as it expanded 6.0 per cent on year in the third quarter – the lowest quarterly growth since records began in 1992.

Retail sales have turned out to be the biggest economic driver, contributing 60 per cent to the gross domestic product growth in the first half of the year, government data shows.

About US$71 billion worth of import deals were signed during the six-day CIIE, an increase of 23 per cent from 2018, according to CIIE Bureau, a unit of the Ministry of Commerce and organiser of the trade show.

Among them, New Zealand-based Fonterra, the world’s largest dairy exporter, signed deals totalling 18 billion yuan (US$2.6 billion) with Chinese partners including Alibaba Group Holding, owner of the South China Morning Post, and New Hope Group.

“China is by all means our major trade partner,” said Antonio Carambula, executive director of Uruguay XXI, the South American country’s export and investment promotion agency. “We hope to display not only the high quality of our food products, but also our excellent services to the Chinese consumers.”

CIIE attracted more than 3,000 exhibitors from around the world as mainland companies were encouraged to sign more import deals to help Beijing hone its image as a global economic powerhouse whose rise could effectively drive economic growth worldwide.

However, nearly half of the deals signed by European businesses during the inaugural CIIE last year had not been executed, according to a survey by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.

The bureau did not disclose retail sales achieved during the event. Anecdotal evidence shows consumer spending at this year’s event was reasonably high.

“Shopping at the CIIE once a year is not enough to quench our demand,” said Kong. “We will definitely come again next year.”

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