Regional trading bloc showing strong resilience as Beijing keeps virus at bay
This year's China-ASEAN Expo has witnessed an increasing number of companies in the region work to expand their footprint in the Chinese market against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They are also invigorating the region's digital economy through cross-border e-commerce, including livestreaming sales, online shops and sub-applications using mobile devices.
It has been seven years since Kaldu Sari Nabati Indonesia entered the Chinese market, yet it was the Indonesian snack and beverage maker's first time to participate in CAEXPO, as it hopes to make a difference online.
"It is actually beyond my expectations. All the visitors have gone through COVID-19 tests. And I did not expect that so many people would attend this expo. Well, you can see the crowd now and we are nearly out of stock," said Kalina Wong, an online distributor for Nabati, adding that they attracted "a new interested party that wants to be our retailer" on the second day of the expo.
During the four-day CAEXPO, Nabati planned to do livestreaming every day on major Chinese e-commerce platforms including Alibaba-backed Taobao, Pinduoduo and JD, as well as video-sharing social networking app Douyin.
"Indeed, China's livestreaming market is a trend now. Because of the pandemic, clients like to use livestreaming to purchase," Wong said. On Nov 27, the first day of the expo, the company managed to land nearly 1,000 orders through livestreaming.
"China is a good potential market. I gained a lot of business opportunities through this expo. Our retail has been very good. Our online sales are also doing very well through the China expo. We plan to attend the next China-ASEAN Expo next year," she added.
"No doubt China has done the best job of any country in the world in containing COVID-19 and I can see the economy grows very, very fast. So I'm actually confident of building up our market share in China," Wong said.
It was Loh Wee Keng's third time to come to CAEXPO as an exhibitor for Regal Mart International Sdn Bhd, a Malaysian company that imports and exports foodstuffs.
The general manager of the company called the expo "a very good platform for us to come into the Chinese market" and "a very good window for us to promote our products", because major expos like CAEXPO and the China International Import Expo show the world "how China can attract all the big players in the world to come to China, and we can distribute our products through China to other countries".
Loh said this year his company invited a Key Opinion Leader to enrich the company's promotion, as they noticed an array of livestreaming sales activities over the past few months in China.
"So we can see for the next five years, online business will be booming."
He added that the Chinese government has emphasized that in the future, China will concentrate more on the digital economy and how to utilize e-commerce platforms.
"I think this is a very good indicator for us businessmen to follow the country's policy, and we will focus on e-commerce. This is the development of the future," Loh said.
Zeng Jinsong, vice-president of Bangkok-based Charoen Pokphand Group, also said that with its many resources committed, China has been a major player in developing the digital economy worldwide.
He expressed optimism about prospects for the digital economy not only in China, but also across Asia, thanks to the signing of the landmark Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership last month.
The entrepreneur also hailed CAEXPO as a key platform that brings more and more opportunities for cooperation and communication, and allows various enterprises, big and small, to establish partnerships in the region.
For startups like BebeBalm, a Philippine skin care products company, both offline exhibitions and online applications are effective ways to seek out niche markets in China.
Founded in 2018, BebeBalm first began making an appearance in Shanghai retail markets, where it attracted crowds of customers strolling through shopping districts.
Apart from offline promotional activities, Carol Ong, founder of the company, also set up an online sales channel on mini program, a sub-application built within China's social networking giant WeChat, to solicit more business opportunities.
CAEXPO was the firm's first on-site exhibition this year and it was also the first time BebeBalm got involved in a multinational event.
"What we're trying to do right now is hopefully with this expo to reach out more to the Chinese market," Ong said, adding that they were looking for Chinese sellers to help them, but the company has also inked commercial contacts from other countries attending the expo.
"I came here with the intention of really talking to more China sellers. And then it's a bonus that there are businesspersons from other countries as far as the Middle East and Africa who are interested in our products," she added.
"Yesterday, some people bought our products. And they already came back again today," she said. "What I like about it (CAEXPO) is that people (here) are very receptive. And our department of trade said this is a good test market, because if people like it (the brand) here, customers in different parts of China will also likely like it."
Ong said they now focus more on online sales through WeChat's mini program in the post-pandemic era in China and would like to attend CAEXPO next year.
"I would say for us it's a beneficial way to explore the Chinese market after the pandemic, because we're so small right now, and would like to go to all these different channels."