by Xinhua writers Sun Xiaozheng, Lai Yuchen and Wang Pan
GUANGZHOU, April 15 (Xinhua) -- Chinese manufacturers attending the ongoing Canton Fair in south China's Guangzhou City are expecting steady trade growth this year despite poor economic data in the first quarter.
The Canton Fair, or China Import and Export Fair, opened on Tuesday following data that showed exports and imports both fell sharply in March. But many exhibitors remain optimistic.
"Although overall data slumped, we managed to grow slightly in March year on year," said Sun Shubao, a senior executive of Haier Group, one of China's leading home appliance firms.
Sun attributed Haier's resilience to customer care. "We have kept innovating to satisfy our consumers worldwide," he said.
Sun said he was confident that their "smart" appliances, which can be accessed through mobile Internet, will secure them another year of growth.
According to customs statistics, China's total foreign trade volume in March was 332.5 billion U.S. dollars, down 9 percent year on year. Exports last month fell 6.6 percent year on year to 170.11 billion U.S. dollars, while imports were down 11.3 percent to 162.41 billion U.S. dollars.
"We are indeed having some difficulties," said Gao Yuanjia, general manager of Jiangsu Chunlan IMP.& EXP. Co., Ltd., an air conditioning manufacturer.
Gao said the increasing cost of labor in China as well as rising international market competition both dampened trade expectations.
But Gao is not all doom and gloom, saying his company was focusing on its strengths and will "innovate to capture any potential growth opportunities."
Wu Jianfeng, general manager of Hongyu Ceramics, told Xinhua at the fair that the company's export volume had been stable over the past two years, despite challenges of sluggish demand and anti-dumping disputes.
"We're cautious about this year's situation. Flat figures have been quite normal in China's ceramics industry in recent years," Wu added. "But we'll continue to invest in R&D, and keep making new products."
INNOVATION TO SECURE GROWTH
"In the past three months, exports of some of our core products have surged 700 percent year on year. We have overseas orders up until the third quarter of the year. I believe we could realize 60 percent annual growth," said Fang Xueyu, deputy general manager of Hisense International Co., Ltd., another leading home appliance company in China.
Fang said economic indicators pointed to an economic slowdown but that it would not be like the global economic crisis in 2008.
This year, 24,581 exhibitors from China and 43 other countries and regions are expected at the Canton Fair, up by 64 from the previous session in autumn 2013. The fair has an exhibition area of 1.17 million square meters and 59,708 booths, up by 169 from the previous session.
"Though some international factors may dampen trading expectations, we believe exhibitors attending the fair this year will be up," Liu Jianjun, the fair's spokesman said.
Exhibitors welcomed Liu's remarks, which, in other words, mean that over 190,000 global buyers will come to their booths during the fair, reflecting the appeal of "Made in China."
China has set this year's target of economic growth at about 7.5 percent. But growth in Q1 is set to be below the year target.
Premier Li Keqiang said last week at Boao Forum for Asia that the word "about" indicated there was a range for GDP growth.
As long as there is sufficient employment and no major fluctuations, actual GDP growth will be considered to be within the proper range, be it slightly higher or lower than the target, he said.
Zhong Shan, China's vice minister of commerce, encouraged manufacturers to look on the bright side and vowed that the ministry will join other departments to further optimize policies regarding trade, tax and finance.
Zhong also said that the ministry is drafting new guidelines on "cultivating new competitive edges in overseas trade."
Chen Shaolin, overseas sales director of Gree, the world's largest maker of air conditioners, believes that China is able to strike a balance between economic stimulation and deepening reform.
"Like many of our peers, we don't pin our hopes on protective polices. Chinese companies can gain a firm foothold in global markets if they innovate and constantly improve customer experience. That's the direction we're heading to," said Chen.