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5 Things You Need to Know About the Canton Fair

Anyone who has been in the world international business for a meaningful period tends to become intimately familiar with trade shows. These events bring together companies and individuals from an industry who, in a short, intense burst of activity, engage in a relentless exchange of ideas and make lucrative business deals.

Today, we are going to discuss a trade show unlike any other. Imagine your regular trade show – the hustle-and-bustle, exhibitors, buyers, dinner meetings and so on – and expand that to an area roughly equal to 218 football fields. This is the Canton Fair, and it is not for the light-hearted.

Officially called the China Import and Export Fair, the Canton Fair has been held twice a year, every year, from 1957 in the city of Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton). Guangzhou is the third-largest city in China (after Shanghai and Beijing) and has historically been one of the few trading ports open to western trade, so it has a rich history of engaging in international commerce. Today, it is home to the largest wholesale supplier trade show in the world.

Since MorphoMFG is also based out of Guangzhou, we have become very familiar with the biannual influx of buyers and suppliers into the city. Here are 5 things you absolutely must know about the Canton Fair.

1. The Canton Fair is MASSIVE…

… and that might be an understatement! Here are some numbers for you from a recent Canton Fair.

  • 25,000+ Exhibitors
  • 60,000+ Booths
  • Almost 200,000 Visitors
  • 213 Countries and Regions Represented

It’s so big that despite the massive available area, they still don’t have enough space to fit all the exhibitors. Instead, the schedule is divided into three phases, each differentiated by the type of product showcased. So, in practice, the Canton Fair is actually 3 fairs held back-to-back.

Given its size and range of products, the Canton fair has something for everyone. However, if you are looking for a highly specialized or niche product, you may be better off attending one of the many smaller exhibitions for specific niches. You can check out most trade shows in China here.

2. The Canton Fair Doesn’t Cost a Penny!

That’s right. The world’s biggest trade show doesn’t charge you a single penny to attend! The Canton fair is co-hosted by the Ministry of Commerce of China and the government of Guangdong Province (within which Guangzhou lies) and their interest lies in the sheer magnitude of business generated by these events, not in raising entry fees from visitors.

There is no charge to visit the fair as long as you pre-register before you go. On the spot registration is also available, but costs $20. Save yourself the unnecessary expense by registering online.

Of course, just because the fair itself is free doesn’t mean the rest of your trip will be! Hotel rooms in Guangzhou can get really expensive during the fair (especially at the few hotels located nearby), as can flight tickets into Guangzhou. Make sure you plan ahead and make your reservations well in advance.

3. The Canton Fair is Foreigner-Friendly

The Canton fair used to be called the ‘Chinese Export Commodities Fair’ and despite the official change of name to include ‘import and export’ the show remains predominantly export-oriented.

Given the expected influx of foreign buyers, the hosts often go out of their way to make things easier for the bewildered visitors. Signposts in English will guide you around, and English-speaking volunteers will be available throughout the major transport routes to and from the fair to help ese your passage.

Most booths will have at least one English-speaking representative to avoid communication barriers, although you can also arrange for an interpreter at the show if you need one.

These extra amenities also make the Canton Fair a convenient gateway into the world of Chinese business for the uninitiated outsider. If you’ve been dealing with manufacturers and suppliers only on Alibaba, maybe now is the time for you to venture out there yourself and make new relationships in person.

4. It Pays to be Organized

As already mentioned, travel arrangements should be made well in advance to avoid huge price bumps. The Chinese Visa authorities have also been known to take their time, so make sure to apply well in advance of your planned visit.

However, it is at the event itself that pre-planning will pay off the most. Given the sheer size of the area and number of potential vendors, it would be a waste o your time and effort to just amble around hoping to find what you need.

Instead, do your research about the individual products, vendors or manufacturers you’re interested in and set up meetings with them beforehand if possible. This way you’ll be much better received when you arrive in person and will have more fruitful discussions. You can check out the complete listing of exhibitors at the official Canton Fair website.

While accidental discoveries are definitely part of the charm of the Canton Fair, keep your eyes on the prize and give yourself the best possible chance of success with a little bit of planning and organization

5. It Helps Build Personal Relationships

You may feel that Alibaba and email is enough of a bridge between yourself and your Chinese suppliers/manufacturers. If so, please allow me to correct you.

It always pays to build a personal relationship with business partners, but this is doubly true here in China. It is difficult to overstate the role that personal rapport plays in the cost, quality and timeliness of delivered products. We have heard so many stories about Western companies finding a sharp decline in defective product deliveries from the same vendor after having met them in person.

You can check out our guide to finding the right partner in China, where we describe the process you should follow in your online hunt. However, if an in-person visit to the Canton Fair is a viable possibility, we strongly recommend it as a part of your hunt for the best partner.

Over the course of a few days, you can meet several manufacturers and discuss terms like MOQs and timelines on the spot, look at samples of their work and maybe even visit their factories, all before finally closing the deal. Such an arrangement will help avoid the most common pitfalls of manufacturing in China and open new doors that you previously weren’t even aware of.

The Canton Fair has become a right of passage for anyone interested in manufacturing and exporting products from China, and for good reason. It is the closest you can come anywhere in the world to a one-stop shop for everything. So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and head over to Guangzhou, and be sure to come and say hello to your friends at MorphoMFG!

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