The Canton Fair

The Fall Canton Fair ( known in China as the 广交会or Guang Jiao Hui) concluded recently. There were over 23, 000 exhibitors this year. Against the backdrop of the continuing row between the US and China over the Yuan, many vendors this year were taking only short term orders ( delivery within 6 months) fearful that long term orders based on an undervalued yuan would hurt their bottom line. And many small to medium sized exhibitors were expressing concern that the appreciation of the Yuan would soon put them out of business. Knowing the Chinese fondness for hyperbole as I do, I suspect that most of these companies will not go out of business but will simply have to streamline their operations. Still when you look at the seasonal manufacturing business in Guangdong and the impact the Global Economic Crises had there on small and medium sized businesses you wonder. As more than 70 % of the exhibitors at the Canton Fair are small and medium sized businesses, I shudder to think what would happen to the Fair were many of these people, in fact, put out of business? One of the great trade fairs of the world would shrink drastically in size.

The Canton Fair is an amazing experience. You can spend a day walking around and talking to what you think is every decorative ceramics vendor in China, only to discover that you missed another 200 vendors in the building across the street. The scale brings to mind Woodstock. Only the Canton Fair is about ten times as large.

But the real bargains are to be found at all the auxiliary fairs that spring up around the Canton Fair, usually seven or eight of them in Guangdong at the time of the Canton Fair, like the Jinhan Fair or the CAC Fair. These fairs are where you find some real gems, rural vendors with exquisite craftsmanship who simply lack the sales and marketing to make a name for their product. These fairs may in fact grow in size as many vendors decide they can no longer afford the hefty entrance fee to exhibit at the Canton Fair. Or these fairs may die out altogether. Let’s hope not.

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