The spring session of the twice-yearly Canton Fair opened yesterday with officials talking up efforts to boost slackening exports.
Some overseas buyers attending China's oldest and largest trade expo remained cautious about China's surging labour costs, but were generally optimistic about the country's export prospects.
China's export growth slowed in March to 10 per cent from a year earlier, following a year-on-year gain of 21.8 per cent recorded in February.
The US$880 million ease up was the country's first trade deficit since February last year.
Speaking on the opening day of the three-week-long fair yesterday, Deputy Minister of Commerce Li Jinzao said the event not only fostered export development but also served as an important platform to study and refine foreign trade policies, Xinhua reported.
The ministry hoped to boost the competitiveness of China's export goods by encouraging technological innovation, promoting Chinese brands, raising product quality and improving export service, Xinhua said.
The fair, which started in 1957 and is held every spring and autumn, will run until May 5. It is also a major event in the global trade calendar, bringing together Chinese manufacturers and more than 400,000 global buyers every year.
Vishwanath Kapoor, whose company sells audio visual conversion equipment in India, said he normally came to the fair every second year, but felt disappointed this time.
"I was sorry to see they reduced the electronics section again. I came to check out the latest product trends, but there isn't much for me to see," Kapoor said.
Compared with a decade ago, Kapoor said prices had surged at least 50 per cent due to the depreciation of the Indian rupee against the rising yuan, as well as rising wages. But he won't be switching to a new supplier outside China in the near future.
"Manufacturers in Shanghai and Ningbo understand what we want. I have been working with them for 10 years, it is hard to break the cycle," Kapoor said. He added that his Chinese manufacturers offered extra compensation for manufacturing faults as well as spare parts and consumables to retain clients.
A similar sentiment was shared by Taiwanese car accessories merchant James Lin.
"Costs have risen by between 10 per cent and 20 per cent compared to last year, but we will continue sourcing from the mainland because value for money is still good compared with products from Japan, Taiwan and Korea," Lin said.
"[Mainland] China is still the world's factory. This position won't change for at least three to five years. Its manufacturing is moving up the value chain so it is normal to see some of the labour-intensive and low-end production lines moving to countries like Vietnam," he said.
Geopolitics and health issues also cast a shadow over business.
Yasushi Kato, executive officer of Nitto Kogyo Corporation, which produces high-end internet, electrical and lighting products, said business had been affected by Sino-Japanese territorial disputes.
"Local governments in China are not allowed to bid for our internet data centre products so we are working with other Japanese firms to focus on southeast Asian markets," he said.
Some overseas exhibitors were also concerned about the H7N9 bird flu virus outbreak .