Business owners from 23 trading companies based in Yongkang, Zhejiang province, await boarding at Yiwu Airport, Zhejiang, on Sunday. They chartered a flight to the United Arab Emirates to seek business opportunities. (HU XIAOFEI/FOR CHINA DAILY)
Zhejiang province-based foreign trade companies seek more orders abroad
A business delegation of 96 entrepreneurs and executives from 50 companies in Zhejiang province left for Tokyo on a flight chartered by the Jiaxing municipal government in the early morning of Dec 4. It was the start of a seven-day business tour to Japan, one of China's largest city-level chartered business flights in 2022. It was also indicative of how such private flights are helping lift the economy.
The passengers were exhibitors at Asia Fashion Fair 2022. Most were from trading companies in Jiaxing, with a dozen from other cities such as Hangzhou, Ningbo and Huzhou.
They arrived before the fair's opening on Dec 7 to take full advantage of their time in Japan. Some visited regular clients and others sought new business opportunities.
Xu Yihong from Pinghu Aili Trade Co Ltd discovered a new direction for the company when visiting several clients.
"I found that eco-friendly products are popular among young people in Japan. That's why most clothing factories here are using materials such as recycled cotton. It's a new trend in the garment market," said Xu, who immediately asked her suppliers to change what they buy.
Sixty exhibitors at this year's fashion fair are from Jiaxing, up from about 20 in previous years, according to the Jiaxing Municipal Commerce Bureau.
Among them was Zhu Yu, foreign trade manager at Jiaxing Yunxiang Knitting Co Ltd. After three years of missing the fair, Zhu took the chartered flight. Armed with his latest samples, he took home $2 million worth of orders from Japanese clients at the fair.
Another chartered plane carrying local businesspeople and officials of the Jiaxing Municipal Commerce Bureau headed for Europe on the same day. In six days, they visited commercial authorities, business associations and companies in Germany and France.
The two delegations were part of a campaign by the Jiaxing government to help local companies do more business with foreign customers.
A businessman shows product samples of his company to be introduced abroad at Yiwu Airport, Zhejiang province, on Sunday. HU XIAOFEI/FOR CHINA DAILY
Since the beginning of 2022, government officials have been delegated to companies to help solve problems.
"It's inspiring for companies that the government always stands side by side with them when facing challenges," said Ni Huping, vice-mayor of Jiaxing. "A group of officials are responsible for offering logistical support to the business delegations, including helping them deal with their visas.
"We also noticed that many orders they received were short-term orders, mostly two-month and three-month orders. During the trip, our officials accompanied them to visit customers to vouch for their reliability and strengthen their mutual trust."
Ni said he thinks of the business tour as a great way to reinforce foreign customers' confidence in doing business with Chinese companies.
"It worked out well. Many orders were renewed during the trip and some agreements were extended from three months to a year," he said.
The business delegation campaign, which helps trading companies keep regular customers and attract new customers, helps shore up their confidence.
During the business tour, representatives from Jiaxing visited more than 200 companies in Japan, displayed over 2,000 of their latest products at the exhibition and received over 2,100 buyers.
According to the Jiaxing municipal commerce bureau, thanks to the tour, exports of textiles and garments in Jiangxing are expected to grow by five percentage points in the first quarter of 2023.
In Ningbo, another export-oriented city in Zhejiang province, authorities assigned to represent local commerce say they intend to organize over 100 business tours for more than 10,000 people from over 1,000 companies by April. The first group left for the United Arab Emirates on Dec 6.
Chen Yuan, general manager of Ningbo Kangda Electronics Co Ltd, said he had a tight schedule on his trip.
"I'm going to the UAE and Indonesia," said Chen, "In Dubai, I plan to attend The Big 5 exhibition at the Dubai World Trade Center and visit three regular customers."
Chen's company previously had focused on markets in Europe and the United States. But due to unexpected factors, such as the resurgence of COVID-19, global inflation and the energy crisis, its orders from US markets have dropped 40 to 50 percent.
"That's why we had to act to get out of the woods," said Chen, who expressed excitement about the trip. "The partnerships between our company and Dubai clients have lasted for more than 10 years. But Dubai markets account for less than 5 percent of our exports. That shows some opportunities to improve. I also want to take a field trip to Indonesia, where we plan to establish a factory."
Ding Yandong, general manager of Ningbo Rollmax Shutter Component Co Ltd, said he was much more familiar with chartered business flights.
In July, Ningbo launched the first round-trip business flight from China since the pandemic emerged. Ding was among the 36 passengers. During the 12-day trip, he visited seven clients, both regular and new, with 30 kilograms of samples in his luggage, and received orders with a total value of 2 million euros ($2.1 million).
Ding said he did not hesitate to join the business delegation to the UAE, where he used to attend the exhibition every year but hasn't been there for three years. On this trip, he took 20 kg of samples and equipment for a visit to a customer.
The customer used to place regular orders every quarter, but this year sent an email saying that the company no longer needed Ding's products. Ding sent several emails asking why, but never got an answer.
"I want to win that business back. As long as I know his requirements, I have confidence we can improve our products together with him," said Ding, who said he thinks business is best discussed face-to-face.
The 13th China HomeLife Dubai expo was held in Dubai from Monday to Wednesday. Over 150 representatives from more than 100 companies in Ningbo attended the exhibition, according to organizer Zhejiang Meorient Commerce &Exhibition Inc.
Li Feng, an official at the China Office of Al Harithy Company for Exhibitions, an event management firm in Saudi Arabia, highlighted foreign companies' desire to work with Chinese companies.
"Enterprises in Saudi Arabia hope small and medium-sized companies in China will bring great products to exhibitions. The business delegation offers a way for companies to expand international markets," Li said.
As of the end of November, the city had scheduled 167 delegations to attend 100 exhibitions in 23 countries and regions, including the US, Germany and Japan.
Through such government-led business trips, it is hoped that companies will be more upbeat about their growth prospects and more willing to go abroad and communicate with international counterparts, said Li Lin, an official at the Department of Commerce of Zhejiang.
Li recently led a business delegation from Zhejiang on a six-day trip to Germany and France. It was also China's first business team led by provincial-level commerce authorities to travel abroad since 2020.
"We will promote Zhejiang's business environment and innovative measures, and explore opportunities for economic and trade cooperation between Zhejiang and European countries," Li said.
Similar campaigns to help local companies tap into international markets have been launched around the nation.
Representatives from trading companies in Jiangsu, Guangdong and Sichuan provinces recently took chartered flights to seek more business abroad.
Between January and October, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces were tops in the nation in terms of imports and exports, and Sichuan earned first place among China's inland provinces, government officials said. The four provinces' imports and exports surpassed a total of 16 trillion yuan ($2.3 trillion), making up nearly 46 percent of the whole nation's figure.