Black pepper from Timor-Leste, tea from Laos, wood carvings from the Central Africa Republic, and coffee from Ethiopia.... such local specialties from these least developed countries were displayed along with intelligent products from developed nations such as humanoid robots at the fifth China International Import Expo (CIIE).
Intriguingly, these local products sparked the same strong interest among customers as the upscale items did at the import expo.
Bei Lei, executive curator of the national pavilion of Timor-Leste at the expo, has witnessed the meteoric rise of Timorese coffee in China.
She said the CIIE has promoted trade cooperation and cultural exchanges between the two countries, adding that "in the process of sharing China's development opportunities, we feel the warmth of China."
A country with a population of about 1.3 million, Timor-Leste has been an active participant in the CIIE since 2018.
The coffee industry is seen as an economic pillar for Timor-Leste. Ultra-high standards involved in the picking and processing have made its coffee beans a signature product of the country.
In retrospect, Timor-Leste's CIIE journey, however, started with humble beginnings. When it first participated in the expo in 2018, it was simply the country's national image that was showcased and no enterprises had joined the exhibition.
At the 2nd CIIE in 2019, the country tentatively showcased a few of its specialties such as coffee, wild honey, red wine and handicrafts; at the 3rd CIIE in 2020, they won coffee orders worth 5 million U.S. dollars, and the 4th CIIE, Timorese coffee once again gained fame thanks to a robot barista provided free of charge by a Chinese company.
Timor-Leste exported 348 tonnes of coffee beans to China in 2021, up 140 percent year on year, according to the country's statistics.
All the products are green and pollution-free, which is in line with the pursuit of healthy life by Chinese consumers, Bei said. "And it gives us a lot of confidence."
To enable more countries to share China's development dividends, organizers of the CIIE have invited the least developed countries to participate in the expo since its first edition and provided two standard booths free of charge to each of these participating nations.
During the expo, special matchmaking conferences are held to help connect exhibitors from these countries and potential buyers.
In 2019, the organizers specially set up a venue in the Shanghai free trade zone for countries in need to open national pavilions to display their commodities and investment projects all year round. This year, the CIIE joined hands with a number of multinational organizations and industry associations to help least developed countries organize delegations to participate in the expo.
Before the CIIE opened this year, the organizers took the initiative to coordinate with Chinese companies to help Timor-Leste build a larger booth, doubling the booth area from last year to 36 square meters.
Since 2018, among more than 40 least developed countries in the world, companies from over 30 nations have participated in the CIIE every year to seek business opportunities.
Ali Faiz has taken part in the CIIE for three consecutive years, displaying exquisite Afghan carpets. There weren't any flashy decorations at his booth, and the beautiful carpets were the best form of publicity.
"Selling a large handmade wool carpet can guarantee the life of an ordinary family for nearly a year. The Chinese market gives hope to many Afghans," he said.
Li Manxiong, a Chinese businessman who introduced Timorese coffee to the Chinese market, displayed more than a dozen products processed with foreign coffee beans at the CIIE booth.
"The CIIE has enhanced the visibility of Timor-Leste, and I hope to continue to use this platform to introduce more Timor-Leste products to the world and benefit the people of Timor-Leste," Li said.
During the CIIE, through the coordination of the organizers, more Chinese enterprises and international institutions extended a helping hand to the least developed countries participating in the expo.