The 124th session of China’s largest trade event opens on Oct 15 in Guangzhou, probably the only city in China that has been a thriving trading hub for more than 2,000 years.
From the Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-AD 220) dynasties, Chinese silk, porcelain, iron, paper, gold and silver were shipped overseas from Guangzhou, on the South China coast.
The city then became one of the world’s largest trading hubs, with its importance peaking during the Tang (618-907), Song (960-1279), Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, when a large variety of Chinese goods was shipped to the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
More recently, the capital of Guangdong province saw its import and export volume increase by 66 times between 1987 and 2017.
The twice-yearly Guangzhou Import and Export Fair, better known as the Canton Fair, has helped the city cement its role as an important trade hub since it was launched by the Ministry of Commerce and the China Foreign Trade Center in 1957.
The fair is held every spring and fall, and at the conclusion of this spring’s 123rd session, the accumulated export volume from the fair had reached about $1.33 trillion, with the total number of overseas buyers reaching 8.42 million, according to the fair’s organizers.
“Guangzhou’s leading position as a trade hub has been consolidated since the reform and opening-up policy was introduced in the late 1970s, with a growing number of companies starting manufacturing businesses in the Pearl River Delta region,” said Zhang Yueguo, director of the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences.
“The Canton Fair serves as a barometer of the country’s foreign trade. It is the window, epitome and the symbol of China’s opening-up.”
Guangzhou’s GDP grew 7 percent year-on-year to 2.15 trillion yuan ($311.11 billion) last year, with its import and export volume increasing by 13.7 percent to 971.44 billion yuan.
“The robust trade development has been a key factor driving Guangzhou’s economic development,” Zhang said.
The importance of foreign trade is reflected in the city’s rapid development of port facilities.
The third phase of the container terminal at Guangzhou Nansha Port was put into operation last year and construction of the fourth terminal, with investment from the authorities in Guangzhou, Foshan and Zhongshan, began early this year.
The port inaugurated 31 domestic and overseas container routes in 2017, of which 12 were to overseas destinations, and its cargo handling capacity reached 589 million metric tons, making it one of the world’s largest ports.
“After 40 years of development, more and more high-tech products are being shipped from Guangzhou to overseas markets,” Zhang said. “That’s because a growing number of advanced manufacturing, smart, environmentally friendly and high-end industries have invested in the city.”
The city’s output of new energy vehicles grew by 55 percent last year, with robot production up 21 percent and LED displays up 13.7 percent, according to the Guangzhou Bureau of Statistics.
“Since reform and opening-up, Guangzhou has developed not only as an international trade hub but also as a base for high-end modern industries,” said Xiong Yifang, co-founder of Ehang, an intelligent aerial vehicle technology company.
Founded in 2014 in Guangzhou, Ehang, one of China’s leading drone markers, is now seeking cooperation with overseas partners in several areas, Xiong said.
In February, the company tested its much-anticipated Ehang 184 drone, the world’s first unmanned aerial passenger vehicle. The all-electric vehicle has four arms with eight propellers and can carry a person 30 to 50 kilometers in half an hour.
“Ehang’s rapid development has been based on the city’s open, innovative business environment,” Xiong said.