10/16/2008, 00.00
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Winds of recession blow at Canton Fair, Asia's biggest

At least one quarter of China's annual exports pass through here, totaling 38 billion dollars each time. But U.S. and European buyers are subdued, increasingly interested in selling rather than purchasing. More attention to the domestic market, and to the rest of Asia.

Guangzhou (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A slow opening to the 104th "Canton Fair," which from yesterday until November 6 will exhibit the best of Chinese products for export at the Pazhou Complex. Experts and merchants explain that the fears and signs of recession are not sparing the China Import and Export Fair, a leading event for worldwide commerce, held every spring and autumn.

According to official data, about 22,000 Chinese companies are participating, 20% more than at the one held last April. The commerce ministry has invited about 850,000 foreign companies. Wen Zhongliang, commercial director for the event, expects 53,000 stands, 10,000 more than last time. But foreign participation appears to be on the decline, especially from the United States: of the 424 international exhibitors, only four are from the United States, compared to 22 one year ago, according to the local newspaper Nanfang Daily. Inaugurated in 1956, the fair exploded in 1984 with business totaling 10 billion dollars, and 50,000 participants from 140 countries. In 2004, exhibit space reached 555,000 square meters, making it the second-largest fair in the world. In April of 2008, export deals totaled 38.23 billion dollars, with 190,000 operators from more than 210 countries. One quarter of China's annual exports are settled here.

Zhang Bin, manager of the Haier Group, a leader in household goods, observes that "The number of buyers from the U.S. and Europe this time has greatly fallen. U.S. buyers don't want to attend such fairs even in their own country." David Liu, chief operating officer of a software company in Beijing, explains to the South China Morning Post newspaper that "More than 90 percent of our clients are from the U.S. They outsource their projects to us. Now we are losing that business, so we have to start thinking about the domestic market."

Deputy commerce minister Gao Hucheng warns that "The financial turbulence may have a relatively big impact on China's exports. We need to be on high alert."

Foreign companies participating in the fair are also looking to the Chinese market now, more than to the possibility of moving their production here. They plan to open stores now that sales are falling in the United States and Europe. Joey Ye, sales manager of the electronics company Enping in Guangdong, estimates that "the organisers lost 70 percent of the usual attendees." "I don't expect any business from Europe and the US this year. Many of my clients have told me they will not come. I will have to rely on orders from other Asian countries and the Middle East."

There is also greater attention to the Asian markets, which are nonetheless responding with caution. Naghi Yasil of Dubai, who buys building materials, explains that for years he has bought millions of dollars of materials for years, but now, "because of uncertainties about the consumption market early next year and prices of raw materials and commodities, I will mainly sign short-term deals this time."

The first phase of the fair, which runs until Sunday, October 19, involves machinery, construction materials, chemical products, vehicles, and electronics. This will be followed by furniture and furnishings, toys and cosmetics; in the last week there will be textiles, clothing, and clothing accessories, medicines, recreational goods, foods, and traditional products.

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”