Despite hopes for economic recovery, China's exporters failed to get much encouragement this week from a major trade fair where deals fell nearly 40 percent from a year earlier, with bigger drops for some industries.
The five-day East China Fair, which draws exporters from seven provinces and Shanghai, as well as some foreign companies ended Thursday with $2.24 billion in deals signed, down 39 percent from a year earlier, organizers said.
Many of the staff in the hundreds of booths at Shanghai's exhibition hall this week were busier talking or playing games on their laptops and mobile phones than trying to sell their products, which included clothing, accessories, housewares, basketware — just about any type of handicraft or knick-knack.
Kees Hol, a Dutch businessman working at a factory in East China, was playing foosball with one of his employees.
"It's not really a good fair. It seems really quiet," Hol said. "But we have to look enthusiastic. If we all look discouraged, our customers will be discouraged, too."
While the drop in nationwide factory orders slowed in February, leading some economists to forecast that the slump may be bottoming out, exports have been declining at a faster rate. Exports fell nearly 18 percent in January, accelerating from a 2.8 percent drop in December.
Apart from the 18,229 foreign visitors to the fair, down more than 5 percent from a year earlier, most attendees were Chinese looking for samples of products, exhibitors said.
During the fair, orders to the U.S. fell nearly 47 percent to $310 million, while sales to Japan fell 27 percent to $656.9 million. Europe deals fell 40 percent to $524.4 million, the organizers said in a statement.
A survey of more than 160 trading companies in the eastern city of Ningbo, south of Shanghai in Zhejiang province, found that nearly two-thirds believed a recovery would not come until late this year or beyong, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Most manufacturers are looking to Europe and the developing world to help make up for lost sales to the U.S., it said, noting that sales by Zhejiang factories to Russia, Iran and India jumped more than 50 percent last year.
Meanwhile, a report said continued declines in container traffic at Shanghai and in the southern port of Shenzhen were ominous signs.
Actual order flows fell by 20 percent to 30 percent in the two regions, said Citi analyst Ally Ma.
"Shipping and container terminals still face mounting risks, with the worst likely to come over the next two quarters," Ma said in a report obtained Friday.