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Face-to-face meetings still key for sellers, foreign buyers

By WANG KEJU | China Daily Global | Updated:2023-05-11

Despite the rise of e-commerce, the offline version of the massive China Import and Export Fair is still of paramount importance to trade, according to experts and company executives.

The longstanding event, also known as the Canton Fair, has traditionally been held twice a year, in spring and autumn. This year, it resumed all on-site activities in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, after appearing largely online since 2020 as a result of COVID-19 response measures.

Leveraging its newly expanded exhibition venues covering a total of some 1.5 million square meters, the trade event housed some 70,000 booths for nearly 35,000 exhibitors, showcasing a total of 3 million products.

On the opening day, vendors and buyers from many countries and regions waited in extremely long queues that snaked for kilometers around the venue, eager to meet business partners who were available only virtually during the past three years due to the pandemic.

Raja Bashir, a buyer from the United Kingdom, who participated in the trade fair online over the past years, said he was eager to visit the exhibition and communicate with suppliers in person.

"We are now importing four to five containers of Chinese products on a monthly basis," he said, describing standard, twenty-foot equivalent unit containers. "I would like to meet the suppliers in the flesh, talk with them directly and test the products myself to find the most reliable partners for a long-term business relationship."

This could not be done without a large, brick-and-mortar trade fair, including a variety of vendors, Bashir said. The Canton Fair is widely considered an efficient, trusted platform for matchmaking between vendors and buyers.

As many as 2.9 million offline visits were registered throughout the Canton Fair, setting a new record since it was launched in 1957, said the Ministry of Commerce. The fair was so massive that it was divided into three phases to cover different product categories, and a visit was counted each time a person visited the fair.

Manufacturers who participate in a physical exhibition are able to not only directly communicate with customers but also more easily provide tailor-made services, said Han Yonghui, vice-dean of the Guangdong Institute for International Strategies, a Guangzhou-based research consultancy institute. That is conducive to cultivating their brands and helping them go global, Han added.

An online trade fair is the most economical way to help vendors reach out to potential customers and present their new products. Buyers get firsthand opportunities to learn about suppliers and their products, which often beefs up orders by a large margin, he added.

The fair's online services remained in place, facilitated by advanced digital technologies, such as 5G, big data, the internet of things, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

The Canton Fair, with a long history and wide influence, has an irreplaceable role in trade, according to Wang Haifeng, a researcher at the Academy of Macroeconomic Research, affiliated with the National Development and Reform Commission.

Integrating online and offline exhibitions is inevitable, given the continued development of cross-border e-commerce, experts said. The combination provides substantial opportunities for both old and new participants to showcase their companies' production, innovation and customer service, they said.

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Visitors meet with exhibitors during the first day of the 133rd Canton Fair in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, on April 15. PARKER ZHENG/CHINA DAILY

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