left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Trading nations

Updated: 2013-01-25 11:57
By Zhang Haizhou and Xu Junqian ( China Daily)

Trading nations

Mamadou Sall, from Senegal, and his wife select products for Africa markets. Sall has lived in Yiwu for more than 10 years. Zhang Jiancheng / for China Daily

One of the craft shops is in the African Products Exhibition and Trade Center in Zone 5 of the commodities market.

The center is a result of the 2009 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation meeting in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt, when the Chinese government declared a commitment to boosting Sino-African trade.

It opened in April 2011 to enable African traders to sell African products in China and have access to the Chinese market.

The center now has 50 shop booths, each about 40 sq m, reserved for almost each African country. Products from 37 countries now occupy 38 of them. South Africa has two.

Twenty-six shops are run by African business people under the recommendations of their government. They do not have to pay rent for the first three years.

The rest are mainly run by Chinese who each import goods from a single African country.

Most of the goods on the shelves are handmade crafts, including stone and wood sculptures, gems and glass crafts. Some of them sell red wine and feather goods.

Sall's younger brother, Omar Sall, 25, now runs their Senegal shop.

Related readings:
Trading nations 70,000 stores, and still counting
Trading nations Tale of two immigrant cities
Trading nations A trade hub, and a cultural bridge as well
Trading nations Bridgehead revisited: how Yiwu finally made it big

Omar moved to China more than a year ago. He now speaks enough Chinese to bargain with shoppers, who are mostly Chinese.

"It is very slow," Omar Sall says, saying this is because few Chinese know about handmade crafts from Africa.

Cen Binbin, 26, a sales assistant in the Tunisian shop, agrees.

The college graduate in French sits on her own, reading a textbook on business French in the empty shop. She has had only one potential customer this chilly winter morning who bought nothing.

Her shop, owned by a Tunisian who rarely shows up in Yiwu, sells mainly handmade glass works. An empty perfume bottle, for example, is priced at about 150 yuan ($24).

"Few Chinese really know our products. I used to have some customers who thought our products were made in China."

Cen, from Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, got the job after working in the Tunisian Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo in 2010. Before moving to Yiwu in spring 2011, she worked as an assistant in the company's other shop in the tourist city of Hangzhou, 140 km from Yiwu.

She says the best days were during the Shanghai Expo when weekly sales were sometimes more than the annual sale of the trade center shop.

Cen believes Zone 5, the commodities market's newest zone, is not well known in general.

The administration office is already taking measures to boost publicity of the center.

The imported commodities mall of the commodities market organized 18 exhibitions outside Yiwu and 13 promotional events last year, says Zhu Xingping, deputy manager of the trade center.

To help sales, Zhu says the administration office has offered advice to the shop owners on selecting goods.

"The problem is cultural differences," he says, adding that not all African business people understand the tastes of Chinese customers.

"We suggest they choose smaller items, not big ones like those stone masks from Ghana. Chinese customers don't like those."

While the Yiwu Index shows this is not the best time for trade, Zhu says the administration office is trying to introduce more Africa-related services in the trade center.

The office is discussing with embassies of African countries the possibility of the trade center shops becoming "windows to knowing their countries", he says.

"For example, why don't we offer consultation in tourism, visa, education and business information?" Zhu says.

However, despite the worrying outlook, Shi Jinchuan, Dean of the College of Economics at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, remains optimistic about Yiwu's prospects.

"The gloomy future of China's foreign trade won't necessarily deprive Yiwu," he says, adding that the "South-South" trade between developing countries is likely to pick up in the next three to five years.

  • Group a building block for Africa

    An unusually heavy downpour hit Durban for two days before the BRICS summit's debut on African soil, but interest for a better platform for emerging markets were still sparked at the summit.