China's Canton Fair suffers drop in attendance
By WILLIAM FOREMAN,Associated Press Writer AP - 1 hour 58 minutes ago
GUANGZHOU, China - China opened the final session of the Canton Fair _ the country's biggest trade show _ on Sunday amid complaints that attendance has been dismal because of the financial crisis clobbering the nation's biggest export markets in the U.S. and Europe.
The biannual event, which started 51 years ago in this freewheeling southern city, has long been a key barometer of global demand for Chinese goods. Foreign buyers traditionally flock to the event to haggle over an astounding array of goods _ everything from wrenches, bathroom sinks and copper tubing to solar panels, laptops, motorcycles and high-heeled shoes.
Final attendance figures will not be ready until the fair ends on Nov. 6. But exhibitors and buyers said they have noticed a sharp drop in attendance at the event in Guangzhou, also called Canton.
"It is amazing how empty is. It's frightening," said Christopher Devereux, a British businessman who has been attending the fair for more than a decade.
Devereux said the aisles are usually blocked with people. But at the fair's second five-day session late last month, attendees were able to stroll up and down corridors virtually unimpeded, said Devereux, the Guangzhou-based managing director of Chinasavvy HK Ltd., which matches foreign buyers with Chinese factories.
Billed as the biggest Canton Fair ever, this season's event was held in the massive new steel-and-glass exhibition center on the banks of the Pearl River. The sprawling building with a sloping roof takes up enough space for 200 football fields and featured more than 55,600 booths, a 30 percent increase from the last show, organizers said.
But when the doors opened on Oct. 15, many of the Chinese exhibitors were already gloomy.
"We're looking at the financial crisis in America and Europe and we're becoming worried about the future," said Xiang Tao, as he stood in a booth surrounded by purple vacuum cleaners made by his company, Wuxi Jiejia Electric Appliances Co.
Xiang said most of the firm's foreign customers are in Eastern Europe, though the company has hopes of exporting to the U.S. eventually. "But this definitely isn't the time to try to break into the American market," he said.
By the end of the second session that closed Oct. 28, many exhibitors said their nightmares had come true.
"I sat here all morning and didn't have one customer stop by," said a toy factory salesman who would only give his surname, Chen, because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. The salesman, whose company was based in the southern city of Shantou, sat in a booth displaying plastic toy handguns that shot tiny pellets.
"I haven't had any orders so far at this fair. This is all I have," he said, reaching into a tattered shoe box and grabbing four business cards left by prospective buyers. "All I can do is go back to the factory and give them a follow-up call. It's going to be hard to survive."
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