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China’s iconic trade expo Canton Fair postponed

A 5G display at the Smart China Expo. Photo: AP. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

GUANGZHOU, Mar 23, 2020, SCMP. The spring session of China’s largest trade expo, the Canton Fair, has been suspended over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, Chinese authorities said on Monday. The announcement comes amid reports that regular foreign buyers were scrapping plans to attend the event, which was due to open on April 15. The fair has held its spring session in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, between mid-April and early May since 1957, South China Morning Post reported.

The decision was made after considering the current development of the pandemic, especially the high risk of imported infections, Ma Hua, deputy director of Guangdong’s department of commerce, was quoted as saying on Monday by the official Nanfang Daily.

Guangdong will assess the epidemic situation and make suggestions to the relevant departments of the central government, Ma said at a press conference.

No new date for the fair was announced, but veteran traders who regularly attend the event said the Guangdong government is talking with Beijing about a new time, possibly in May.

Premier Li Keqiang had insisted early this month that the fair’s spring session would go ahead despite the virus outbreak, as it was an important part of Beijing’s efforts to “stabilise” the global economy.

Authorities of Guangdong, China’s main export and manufacturing hub, joined other large cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, in introducing new restrictions on Saturday that require all foreign visitors be isolated for 14 days at their own expense.

The containment measures, which come as China braces for a second wave of imported coronavirus cases, would have applied to tens of thousands of foreign merchants attending the fair.

The Canton Fair occurs twice a year and is China’s oldest and largest exhibition. The spring session last year attracted 195,454 foreign buyers from 213 countries and regions across the world. The top five sources of buyers were from Hong Kong, India, the United States, South Korea and Thailand.

But a growing number of regular attendees have recently cancelled plans to take part in this year’s spring session, Chinese exporters said, as concerns mount about possible infection and extra expenses due to a mandatory two week quarantine after arrival.

“About 80 per cent of our firm’s veteran clients told us last month they won’t come this time,” said Jason Liang, a sales manager at a Guangzhou-based exporter of electronic products, who did not want his company identified. “Plus with this new [quarantine], I think at least 90 per cent or almost all of them would drop the trip.

“The costs – time, security and expense – are totally uncontrollable for international travel currently. We also have no plans to attend any exhibition before the summer.”

Felly Mwamba, a leader of the Congolese community in Guangzhou who has been in the city since 2003, said China’s quarantine measures made it hard for people to visit Guangzhou.

Xie Jun, a furniture and fabric exporter from Zhejiang, said buyers from developing countries that were part of the Belt and Road Initiative would be hard hit if they were forced to pay for quarantine and treatment.

“In February before the pandemic occurred, to cushion the impact some local governments in China’s exporting trade hubs, such as Yiwu and Jinhua, introduced subsidies to attract foreign merchants,” he said. “But now all the subsidies policies are cancelled from what I know.”

Chinese exporters, traders, and even local residents in Guangdong, have previously voiced concern about authorities’ decision to press on with the even due to the growing number of imported cases to China.
“We strongly call on the government to cancel the spring session of the Canton Fair,” said Zhu Yinghua, a retired teacher in Guangzhou, said before the announcement.

“It’s too dangerous for us local residents if dozens of thousands of foreigners to flock into Guangzhou.”

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