The sudden COVID-19 outbreak has slowed the international trade and investment in the first half of 2020. Guangdong, a core province for foreign trade in China, faces enormous challenges.
How is the current situation of the foreign traders in Guangdong? Do they remain optimistic about their businesses? What strategies they have adopted to tackle these challenges?
[Photo provided to Newsgd.com]
Arafat Al-Harahsheh, Chairman of the Arab Businessmen Forum in China, shared his views on these questions in an exclusive interview with Newsgd.com.
Arafat has been in China for more than 30 years; he is now based in Shenzhen and has been staying in the city throughout the pandemic. As the condition has improved nationwide, Arafat said most of his suppliers in Guangdong have been back on track since March and he has no problem with logistics as well because the shipping service has been smooth although restrictions still exists on air transport services.
“At this phase, our main concern is about the overseas markets and whether the Arab and European countries could control the virus effectively,” he said, “customers usually come to China for inspection after the Spring Festival but now the overseas demand has faltered and projects are postponed because of the pandemic.”
As a trader specializing in the machinery sector, Arafat said he has reviewed his business plan and is now eyeing on the machines in the fields of medical health and healthy food.“Although the prices of these machines have already risen, I believe the strong demand will last at least two or three more years as people will pay more attention to health and hygiene after the outbreak.”
“In fact, we have already received lots of orders from Arab and European countries,” he said, “the domestic demand in China was extremely large so it was difficult to export medical equipment and related machines before March. But now that the virus spread has been controlled and the factory output has been increased, we are able to export more.”
[Photo provided to Newsgd.com]
Q: How’s the situation of your members?
A: Our members include manufacturers, traders, e-commerce platform operators and logistic service providers. They involve in a wide range of business sectors such as construction materials, furniture, garments & shoes, electronic products & household appliances.
Most of them have been back to work since March especially those in the garment sector. Less people in the construction business have returned to China. It doesn’t mean they suspend their project completely. They are working remotely since their employees have started working.
Q: Many large-scaled expositions have been delayed because of the pandemic. How does it affect the Arab traders? How does it change the plan? What’s your opinion?
A: It does affect our businesses in the first half of this year. I usually participate in an industrial exhibition in Shenzhen in February and a furniture & machine exhibition in March. But both of these exhibitions have been canceled. We were also informed that some of the exhibitions have been postponed.
Guangdong has a large number of high-quality exhibitions. These exhibitions are crucial to our businesses as they are important platforms to gain insight into the latest market trends and look for new suppliers.
I believe they will not just cancel these exhibitions and I hope the situation will be better in the second half of 2020.
Q: As the President of the Arab Businessmen Forum in China, are there any suggestion you can share with the foreign traders in Guangdong?
A: I think seeking business partners or agents will be a good solution during the pandemic. These agents can represent the Guangdong brands and promote their products to the overseas markets that are currently affected by the coronavirus.
We are encouraging our members to cooperate with Guangdong enterprises. Since we own the resources and the client network at the overseas markets especially the Arab markets, bridging the two sides together will be an effective strategy for us to tackle challenges brought by the travel restrictions during the pandemic.
Q: China and Arab countries have been close trade partners. How did the Belt and Road Initiative benefit this trade partnership? Do you see any new opportunities?
A: Most of the 22 Arab countries and regions have participated in the great Belt and Road Initiative. The Initiative has effectively boosted the trade and investment between China and Arab countries. The annual trade volume exceeded $ 300 billion last year and increased more than 20 percent compared to 2018. I believe the number will keep increasing and our cooperation will be expanded into more sectors in the future.
Guangdong products including household appliance, furniture and electronic products are very popular at Arab markets. And I found huge opportunities exist in the high-tech products because Arab countries are still not familiar with these products. But in fact, these made-in-Guangdong tech products are really good and need more promotion through roadshows and exhibitions.
ØTo stabilize foreign trade, Guangdong released a series of measures such as expanding import and export to facilitate cross-border trade, and promote the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, etc.The province’s foreign trade volume reached 1.92 trillion yuan from January to April this year, down 9.8 percent compared to last year. However, the decline has slowed down in Q2.
Editor: Olivia, Jerry