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China Kicks Off Its Biggest Trade Fair

Despite embarrassment from product recalls, about 15,000 companies display their wares at Canton Fair.

GUANGZHOU, China (AP) β€” China kicked off the Canton Fair β€” the country's biggest trade show β€” Monday amid lingering concerns about a series of embarrassing product recalls that have raised questions about the ''Made in China'' label.
The biannual show in the southern city of Guangzhou, once commonly known as Canton, involved 32,005 booths β€” about 320 more than the last session, organizers said. About 15,000 companies were displaying everything from flip-flops and fur coats to garden shovels and black vinyl massage chairs equipped with flat-panel TVs showing gyrating go-go dancers.
Missing from the trade show in two sprawling convention centers were toys, which were to be featured at a separate exhibition later this month.
Toys have been the biggest source of controversy in recent months since Mattel Inc. β€” the world's biggest toy maker β€” ordered three recalls involving more than 21 million Chinese-made products. Many of the items were pulled from shelves because of concerns about lead paint or magnets that could be swallowed.
Other recalls have involved tainted seafood along with toothpaste and cough syrup that contained diethylene glycol, a chemical used to make antifreeze.
American businessman Tracy McIntosh, who visited the fair to shop for kitchen cabinets, faucets and light fixtures, said the recalls have made consumers worried about all Chinese-made goods β€” even ones untouched by the recent controversy.
''I have a lot of customers in the United States asking me about whether there's lead paint on the wood products. They're worried that there are worms in the wood,'' said McIntosh, of Atlanta, Ga.-based ISD Interior Supply Direct.
But the American said he wasn't concerned about the Chinese products he buys because he has a long relationship with his suppliers and he frequently visits them. ''They're building the components and we're putting them together in the U.S. So we're doing our quality control that way,'' he said.
South African businessman Vuso Luthuli said he came to the fair because it was essential to have face-to-face meetings with suppliers. Luthuli, from the eastern coastal city of Pinetown, was shopping for plastic containers used to collect needles and other medical waste.
''People back home really took note of the toy recalls. It was really serious,'' Luthuli said, of African Tradekey Distributors & Logistics (PTY) Ltd. ''There's always a question mark about Chinese goods. You buy something from China and it breaks down, then you have trouble calling them, communicating and getting the problem fixed. That's why you need to come here.''
China has been holding the Canton Fair β€” or the China Import and Export Fair β€” in the spring and autumn since 1957. The show continued even during the most chaotic years of Communist rule β€” when China was more like impoverished, reclusive North Korea than the sizzling economy that it has become.
Many Chinese vendors shrugged off the recalls. They said their customers weren't worried about the problems because it had nothing to do with their businesses.
Tala Wang, whose company makes syringes and other plastic medical equipment, said she never heard about the tainted toothpaste and cough syrup.
''We have a quality control department and we check out all the raw materials that are supplied to us,'' she said.