GUANGZHOU, China (AP) — The Canton Fair — China's biggest trade show — reported an 8.3 percent drop in attendance but a 3 percent rise in value of orders placed, officials said Tuesday, amid a string of global product recalls that have raised safety concerns about Chinese goods.
American visitors to the 10-day show that ended Tuesday declined 10 percent to 12,102. A series of recalls in the United States for Chinese toys, toothpaste and other products has created a consumer uproar and fueled trade tension between the two nations.
Xu Bing, the fair's vice secretary general, would not directly answer questions at a news conference about whether the recalls hurt attendance at the biannual fair held in the spring and fall in this freewheeling southern Chinese city.
He would only say that ''Chinese exports — including toys and food — are all safe.''
Xu also said that although total attendance slipped to 189,500 — an 8.3 percent decline from the last session in spring — the value of the total orders placed for goods rose by 2.9 percent to US$37.45 billion (euro26 billion) compared to last spring. It was a 10 percent increase compared to last fall, he said.
But the figure for orders could easily shoot up or down in the next few weeks as buyers go home and decide whether they really want to go through with the deals or make additional ones.
Meanwhile, several toy companies said they were still suffering from the recalls, and Xu said the value of toy orders dropped by 10.7 percent to US$960 million (euro625.39 million) compared to the last session.
''Every American customer who comes to my booth and looks at our toys asks, 'Is it safe? Is it safe?' '' said Zhu Haiying, a saleswoman with the Jiangsu Holly Corp., which makes stuffed animals. ''American customers don't seem to trust us. It's had a big effect on us.''
Last week, the largest U.S. toymaker, Mattel Inc., announced another round of recalls: 55,500 ''Go Diego Go! Animal Rescue Boats'' that were made in China and exported worldwide, including to America, Canada and Britain. Surface paint on the boats contains excessive levels of lead.
Mattel announced in August a global recall of 18.6 million toys tainted with lead paint and small, powerful magnets that could cause intestinal perforations if swallowed.
Shen Xuexia, a saleswoman for NewSun Toys in the southeastern city of Xiamen, said the fallout from the recalls continues to hit her company, which hasn't had any safety problems.
''It has really hurt us. We've had customers cancel orders, and we've canceled some orders on our own because we weren't certain about the safety standards,'' said Shen, who declined to estimate the value of the lost business.
But it was easy to find veteran buyers who had problems with unscrupulous factories.
American businessman Ron Rust, a wholesaler who sells dolls and seasonal gifts, was at the fair trying to track down a factory owner who shipped him a container of shoddy dolls that were different from the polished sample he chose. He also was helping an American friend find a Chinese supplier who never delivered a US$914 (euro635) shipment of purses ordered at the last fair.
''I often say to myself, 'What are we doing here?' '' Rust said repeatedly as he described his woes.
Although the recalls might have scared away buyers at the Canton Fair, the trade show also might be hurt by the popularity of the Internet, which helps buyers hook up with suppliers. The fair also is competing with many more shows in China, which has rapidly opened up in recent years and become friendlier to foreign buyers.
For the past five decades, the Canton Fair has been China's biggest trade show. It's one of the best displays of the head-spinning variety of goods that China produces — everything from iron manhole covers and high-heel shoes to laptop computers and motorcycles.
But French businessman Serge David, who sells antique toy cars, said he was disgusted with the fair because the booths dominated by old, established companies that rarely produce anything new and exciting. He said this was the main reason why attendance was down.
Pointing to an aisle that was nearly empty, David said, ''Where are all the people? A few years ago, this would have been packed.''