China's Yiwu commodities hub supplies the world despite pandemic

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An overseas buyer is making orders at a booth in Futian market in East China’s Yiwu on Tuesday. Foreign customers are hard to find in the market normally known for daily consumer goods as a result of coronavirus spread. Photo: Chen Xia/GT

What is the world buying from East China’s Yiwu under the shadow of the coronavirus? From face masks and earrings to electronic products and stationery, China’s largest trading center for daily consumer goods continues to supply the world even though most local businesses, which are export-reliant, are struggling as orders dry up amid an uncertain future.

Faisal Dola, who works in a trading company, wove his way through the numerous booths in Yiwu International Trade City, Yiwu’s largest market (also known as Futian), on Tuesday. The Yemeni purchaser, holding a buying list, planned to make 20-30 orders in the market ranging from electric products to locks and doors. 

Having settled in Yiwu for many years, he is purchasing on behalf of one of his friends, also a trading company worker, who can’t make orders personally because of coronavirus-triggered disruptions.

“For months maybe, I don’t think many foreign buyers will come to Yiwu, because the virus is spreading fast and the world is becoming what China was like before,” he told the Global Times. 

Although it’s very hard to come across foreign buyers like Dola in the Futian market, sales of certain products have recovered in recent weeks, as the coronavirus spread across the world after peaking in China. 

Epidemic prevention products are undoubtedly one such category. There were 4,703 online searches for face masks on yiwugou.com, Yiwu’s foremost online marketplace, on Tuesday, compared with only 22 on January 19. 

Sun Honggen, who owns a booth in the Futian market that used to sell sanitary towels and other hygiene items, said that he has received 600,000 yuan ($84,840) in face mask orders from two Sudan customers in the past two weeks, after he recently started to source face masks in Zhejiang to sell. 

“I received about 30-50 calls asking about face mask prices on average every day in the past two weeks, but actual orders aren’t easy to get,” he told the Global Times, adding that he is about to produce face masks at his own factory to gain business amid the pandemic.  

Apart from virus-fighting products, some of the mostly sought-after goods in Yiwu recently included earrings, toys, household electrical appliances and socks, the yiwugou.com data showed.

Tian Jicheng, a notebook exporter in Yiwu, said that since his customers are from African countries like the Gabonese Republic and Cameroon, his business has been largely free of any impact from the coronavirus. He has received orders of about 10 million yuan since the Spring Festival holiday, almost the same as last year. 

“The coronavirus matters little to us. As long as the schools don’t shut down, we don’t shut down,” Tian told the Global Times. 

At Tian’s factory, all employees went back to work on February 20, machines were working around the clock, and he even increased pay for employees. But he agreed that some of his peers exporting mostly to Europe and the US aren’t as lucky.

The warmed-up sales of those products reflected the superiority of made-in-China products even with external shockwaves, purchasers and businesspeople said. 

“The Yiwu market is for the world. Here, I can get good prices and not bad quality. I can also buy in small quantities, like a few cartons, at a price for which I would have to buy hundreds of cartons elsewhere,” Dola said. 

But Wang Jianjun, general manager of Yiwugou.com, said that the coronavirus paints a grim picture for Yiwu’s businesses, mostly micro-sized, in general. 

“If the epidemic lasts half a year or longer, maybe 5-10 percent of Yiwu’s businesses will shut down,” he said. 

In January and February, Yiwu’s exports slumped 22.54 percent to about 34.9 billion yuan. Meanwhile, China’s yuan-denominated exports fell by 15.9 percent yearly. 

Newspaper headline: Yiwu supplies the world despite pandemic

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