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Canton Fair: A Voyage Into The World’s Biggest Trade Centre



JONATHAN NDA-ISAIAH recounts his experience at the ongoing Canton Trade fair in China and suggests that it is one of the biggest trade fairs in the world

A fortnight ago I had the chance to spend several days In China. I was among the delegation of Graham Foggs Ltd which was in that country to sign memoranda of understanding with the biggest pharmaceutical companies involved in the manufacturing of pharmacological raw materials in a bid to make medicine cheap and affordable in Nigeria and the entire African continent.

It was the first time I will be visiting China. Having visited most of the continents in the world- Africa, Europe, North America and Middle East- I was looking forward with much curiousity to visiting China for the first time. Although I had some years ago visited Singapore, the trip to China was a different ball game.  While growing up among my peers, some of us were enthralled by Chinese movies. China is the country of great martial artists like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chow Young Fat.

On reaching the biggest country in Asia, my first stop was Beijing, its capital. Immediately, I took the next available flight to Changsha. I have never heard of the city Changsha; I am sure if most Nigerians were asked to name 10 cities in China, none would mention Changsha.

Changsha is the capital and most populous city of Hunan province in the south central part China. According to 2010 Census, Changsha has 7,044,118 residents, constituting 10.72 per cent of the province’s population. It is part of the Chang-Zhu-Tan city cluster or megalopolis.  Moving round the city in a van ride, I was awed by the architectural beauty of the city. Changsha is littered with sky scrapers, such that Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria’s biggest cities, cannot even boast of. More than 70 per cent of the houses I saw were sky scrapers.

After spending two nights in Changsha, we took a speed train to Guangzhou. I have heard a lot about the city which has become famous for signing some high profile footballers and coaches recently. Italian World Cup winning captain, Fabio Cannavaro, is the coach of FC Guangzhou, and also former Barcelona midfielder, Paulinho, plies his trade in the same club. Apart from sports, Guangzhou is a city known for trade and business.

It is one of China’s biggest cities and, by some counts, its wealthiest.


On our first night in the city we went on a boat ride in the central business district, sailing past the iconic Canton TV Tower which resembles a thin hourglass. The Canton Tower is just like the Effiel Tower in Paris. I was also impressed with the architectural beauty of Guangzhou. I have visited major cities like Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Geneva, Athens, Amman, London and Orlando, but I can boldly say Guangzhou stands shoulder to shoulder with all these towns in terms of architectural design and beauty.

On the 15th of April, the first day of the Canton Trade Fair, we headed to the venue. Canton Fair also known as China Import and Export Fair, is the largest trade fair with the largest scale, the most complete exhibit variety, the broadest distribution of overseas buyers and the highest business turnover held in Guangzhou Canton China. More than 25,000 exhibitors, about 200,000 buyers attended the fair at the China Import and Export Complex.

Held twice a year, Canton Fair is divided into three phases. Phase 1 show electrical and electronic products, vehicles, building materials, and industrial products. This phase focuses on electrical and electronic products as well as industrial products. Most of China’s latest high-tech products are in the first phase of the Canton Trade Fair. It has the largest number of deals and buyers.

Phase 2 showcases labour-intensive products such as groceries, ornaments, toys, gifts, and furniture. It is China’s most dominant industry, with the largest number of buyers from the western country.

Phase 3 displays stationeries, clothing, footwear, bags, food and medicines. There are fashion shows, making this phase women’s favourite.

China Import and Export Complex also named Guangzhou International Convention & Exhibition Center, the largest modernised exhibition center in Asia, is located in Pazhou Island, Guangzhou. It is a perfect integration of human and ecological concerns and high technology that sparkles the world like a shining star.


The complex covers a total construction area of 1,100,000 M2 with the indoor exhibition area of 338,000 M2 and the outdoor exhibition area of 43,600 M2. Area A has an indoor exhibition area of 130,000 M2 and an outdoor exhibition area of 30,000, Area B has an indoor exhibition area of 128,000 M2 and an outdoor exhibition area of 13,600 M2, while Area C has an indoor exhibition area of 80,000 M2.

When we got to the venue of the Fair, there was also tons of traders outside, who probably couldn’t afford owning a stand in the main venue, sharing their flyers and business cards. Because language barrier is a major problem for visitors in China, there were also dozens of interpreters outside the venue of the Fair. Most of the people in that country can’t speak English. It is safe to surmise that most of the international buyers can’t speak Mandarin. Most of the interpreters at the venue charge between 200rmb and 300rmb per day for their services. That is between N10,800 and N16,200 per day.

I went through the process of registration to get the buyer’s pass into the venue. You provide a passport photograph or you take a shot with their camera, and then you fill a form and submit your international passport for verification. The whole process for registration takes about 15 minutes. I also noticed that the security checks were fabulous. One thing that also caught my attention was that most of the workers at the fair were youths. The registration officers, interpreters and security personnel were arguably below 20 years.

After the registration and security checks, we finally entered the venue of the Fair. Inside, there were different pavilions for different products like vehicles and spare parts, small machinery, building materials, lightening equipment, chemical products and energy resources. I visited the small machinery venue, also went to the electronics and vehicle parts section. I also noticed that most of the brands are Chinese.

The second day of the Fair, I went round almost all the pavilions to feed my eyes and get a good feel of the Canton Fair. I also noticed that most of the sellers could speak a word or two in English and with this, communicating was not a problem. The people of China are warm and welcoming. You will be surprised just how much they enjoy chatting with foreign visitors.

Trust Nigerians; I saw a sizeable number of my countrymen who had joined other foreigners to take advantage of the Fair to advance their enterprise.

At the end of the day, attending the Canton Fair is an experience I will never forget in my lifetime. It depends on what your expectations are and what you want to get out of the Fair. Personally, I really enjoyed my time at the Fair; it is a great place to be, and I would love to visit it again. The time to go to China is now. The country is in the middle of a very exciting era as they enter the world stage but things are developing so rapidly that you may soon be hard pressed to tell the difference between Beijing and New York City.



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