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Trading with the world: Exploring Canton Fair

Oct 31, 2019 | Personal

Over the past quarter of the century, the Canton Import and Export Fair (CIEF) has become the Mecca for traders from around the world. One may look at CES and Shanghai expos to have a glimpse of the future but how do we see the present? The answer is the mega-sized exhibition centre in Guangzhou that is capable of hosting over a hundred thousand traders. In the early days, Canton was the only gateway for the rest of the world to interact with the Middle Earth kingdom. This remains true for many foreign traders as the connections built during the five-day exhibition often end up in long-term partnerships with Chinese manufacturers and traders. Amidst the ongoing trade wars and the consequent global slowdown, the fair showed its perseverance in holding on to its original mission of bringing the world together.

As a newbie in trade, I was awestruck at the sheer size of the event. To give you a glimpse at the volume of trade that happens during the fair, every 9 sq. ft. stall in the half a million sq. ft. exhibition space is occupied by a manufacturer backed up by millions in production equipment and R&D while every visitor is a trader capable of filling multiple cargo containers with these products. In short, I would call it a “real-life tinder” for business magnates. The fair generally has a conservative outlook on technology as only 100% economically viable production-ready products are presented at the trade fair. Thus, the growing number of enterprises in new energy resources got me excited about the prospects of the field of renewable energy.

Canton Fair Spring Edition 2019

All of the regulars agreed on two things- that this year’s fair was slower than usual and the “new energy” stalls have encroached on even more of the space for conventional electrical equipment. The above picture gives justice to the hosts’ attention towards the non-conventional energy space. The major players in the market were at the forefront of the exhibition including Canadian Solar. Manufacturers of hybrid inverters, charge controllers and batteries had the fanciest booths, even in the midst of the ongoing economic slowdown. This simply shows the current state of the industry as well as its capacity for growth in the near future.

Arrays of rooftop solar panels and solar water heaters give tribute to China’s might in mass producing technologically advanced products at affordable rates for the mass market. The wide variety of purely electric and hybrid mid-sized vehicles on the streets of Guangzhou show the country’s stride towards de-carbonising mobility. What makes the China model stand out from the rest of the world in terms of renewables, 5G and electric mobility? The sheer size of the market and the population means that the country does not need to look outside for consumers for its high-tech products. A significant headache of globalising the product is taken out of the equation that American companies continue to face. Here the role of Canton fair becomes significant as the expert traders find the space for these Sino-oriented products in the global market thus further expanding their scope and profitability.

Your success at the Canton fair is determined by your target market. I would say the exhibitors at the fair target the price-sensitive markets with limited innovation but in unlimited volumes. For the traders who want to represent highly innovative products I would suggest the fair at Hanover, Germany. If you are looking at lower volumes, it is better to discuss with one of the many China-based traders at the fair or go to the trading exhibition in Yiwu. I guess I was lucky to fit right into the ideal target audience at the CIEF.

The most aspiring thing about the trade fair is that it is happening in a part of the world that is isolated from the rest in language and internet. One could also say that deep within its heart, China wants to open up to the rest of the world. It is only a matter of time. Globalisation is truly without borders.