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China Focus: Canton Fair maps out China's new trade routes

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GUANGZHOU, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) -- Among the busiest booths at Canton Fair, China's largest trade fair, is one advertising two freight trains running along roughly the same routes as the ancient Silk Road.

The two rail lines, one linking west China with Central Asia and the other extending to Russia and Eastern Europe, have attracted over 2,000 businessmen to the booth since the fair opened on Wednesday in south China's Guangdong Province.

"Many merchants from nations along the railway said they hope to import Chinese goods, but have been troubled by a lack of logistic services. This year, we also saw many companies from western China that hope to export to the region using our lines," one staff member at the booth told Xinhua.

Aside from Central Asian countries, whose trade with China has bloomed in recent years, the ASEAN nations, South America and Africa were also frequently mentioned by Chinese exhibitors as they unveiled their export plans at the fair.

Gao Yuanjia, a manager with Chinese air conditioner maker Chunlan, said the company is making great efforts to tap "high-potential markets" to offset declines in traditional ones.

"The Gulf Arab states, for instance, have high demand for air conditioners, given their desert climates," Gao said. "Africa is also a growth point for our air conditioner exports, though the market is now shaken by the Ebola epidemic."

The 116th (autumn) session of the Canton Fair, a barometer of China's exports, kicked off at a time when China is struggling to shore up its foreign trade. Squeezed by weak external demand and rising domestic labor costs, the country's foreign trade growth in the first three quarters slowed to 3.3 percent year-on-year, falling short of the annual target of 7.5 percent.

Yet Chinese exporters of mechanical and electrical products, which make up the bulk of the country's exports, remain confident. Their export maps now include more emerging markets outside the traditional consumer giants like Europe and the United States.

Chinese machinery, the best example of the country's manufacturing prowess, is popular in the developing world, including Africa and Latin America. Some industries, like photovoltaic technology, have also begun to flex their technical muscles overseas after years of investment in research.

Syed Flaz Hussain, a buyer from India, expressed interest in Chinese-made solar panels. Electricity prices are high in India, so clean energy would be popular there, especially in the countryside, he said.

Buyer attendance speaks of similar enthusiasm. Data on the first two days of the fair showed a continuous rise in the number of buyers from countries such as India, Malaysia and Russia compared with the same sessions during the past two years. In particular, African buyers in the two-day period increased from over 4,000 two years ago to 6,636, while buyers from the United States and some European countries continued to decline.

Western countries remain strong purchasers though, exhibitors said, as their economies slowly recover. And for Chinese consumer goods, price competitiveness has been strengthened in markets where consumers have been tightening their belts.

ROUTE BUILDING

For Chinese exporters, another boost may come from promotion of the "Silk Road Economic Belt" and the "21st Century Maritime Silk Road," initiatives proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping last year to promote cooperation between China and its neighboring countries.

Covering many of China's promising trading partners such as Central Asia, Russia, Africa and the ASEAN countries, the "One Belt, One Road" project has promised to improve road, railway and shipping connections, which exhibitors said are vital to their exports to these regions.

"Sometimes it takes 45 days for a parcel to arrive in Russia and the European markets from China's Guangdong. The improved logistics and quicker customs clearance will definitely shorten the time and benefit consumers," said Li Wenyu, vice head of the China-Russia Trade Promotion Association.

"The 'One Belt, One Road' will offer precious opportunities for Chinese companies as they set out," he said.

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