A Brazilian businessman (center) shops at a market in Yiwu, Zhejiang province. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Every month, Singaporean businessman Phua Soo Huat takes two days off from his own business to work as a mediator in commercial disputes concerning foreigners in Yiwu.
A small-commodity distribution center in east China's Zhejiang Province, Yiwu receives over 400,000 overseas visitors each year. Some 15,000 people from over 100 countries live there.
Phua Soo Huat is among 16 foreign mediators from 15 countries in the city who help solve disputes involving foreigners.
In February 2015, a Pakistani businessman complained that a batch of plastic rings bought from a local seller were short in weight and demanded a full refund.
Phua, who planned to fly to Iran that night, immediately refunded his plane ticket. He explained to the complainant that the weight of the rings allowed for 1-percent error and suggested that the amount of the error be deducted from the refund and the two sides agreed on the refund.
During the past year, he has been involved in more than a dozen disputes. The key to successful mediation, he says, is patience, objectivity and relying on evidence.
Tirera Sourakhata from Senegal is also a part time mediator.
"Every time a foreign businessman enters the mediation office, I can see from their eyes that they are more at ease to see a foreign mediator," he said in fluent Chinese. Sourakhata believes foreign mediators are a simple courtesy to foreign business people.
Sudanese mediator Ahmed Abuzaid Alitirkawy recalled a Sudanese businessman vanishing after ordering commodities with a worth of more than 3 million yuan ($450,000). Many sellers in Yiwu were not paid. Ahmed went to Sudan, found the man through his personal connections, and got the money back.
The foreign mediators are all volunteers and passionate about their work. As businessmen themselves, they are familiar with trade procedures and all speak good Chinese. Since the system was established three years ago, the team has resolved 287 disputes with a success rate over 96 percent.
The committee room is festooned with the 15 flags of the mediators' home countries. When the flag of Guinea could not be found locally, Guinean mediator Diallo Mamadou Saliou bought some cloth and made one himself.