GUANGZHOU, Nov. 4 -- The Canton Fair, concluding on Monday in the economic hub of south China's Guangdong Province, has given foreign businesses, especially those from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a valuable chance to explore market opportunities.
Malaysian entrepreneur Cindy Chong, for instance, came to China's largest trade event eager to find a dealer for her food products -- halal chicken jerky, cooking paste, organic snacks and beverages -- in the country.
At the fair in Guangzhou, Chong said she is confident about the market potential here although this is only her second trip to China.
"I also attended the Halal Food Festival in Urumqi in September. All the samples I brought were sold out in the first morning," Chong recalled with excitement.
The Canton Fair is regarded as a barometer for China's foreign trade. After an international pavilion was set up at the fair six years ago, it has also become a trade ground for foreign businesses to sell their products in China.
China's trade with emerging markets has witnessed some fluctuations in recent years due to the sluggish recovery of the world economy and the continuous spillover from developed countries' tapering of monetary easing measures. However, its trade with ASEAN members has maintained a stable growth.
The total volume of China-ASEAN trade in the first three quarters of the year hit 322.36 billion U.S. dollars, up 11.6 percent year on year, according to figures from the General Administration of Customs.
In contrast, China-U.S. trade volume increased by 6.7 percent, and those of China-EU and China-Japan declined by 0.8 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively, during the same period.
Anna Liew Sook Fern, an assistant manager of the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation, helped 38 companies in her country to participate in the Canton Fair.
Liew believes that despite the growth in the past 10 years, which was termed a "golden decade" by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the 10th China-ASEAN Expo, China still has much for ASEAN businesses to explore in the next 10 years, a period labeled the "diamond decade."
"For example, some Malaysian companies have strong ties with their counterparts in south China due to geographical and historical reasons. But now more and more Malaysian people are also paying much attention to the inland of China, especially the west, where there is an Islamic cultural background," Liew explained.
Experts say the establishment of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA) in 2010 has played an essential role in countering the lingering economic crisis, and the streamlined procedures and reduced costs greatly encourage businesses in the CAFTA to enhance cooperation in both trade and investment.
Tham Sun Weng, a buyer for the Philippine importer Teambuilder Company, said the company has benefited a lot from the zero tariffs brought by CAFTA, the world's largest free trade area among developing nations.
Suresh Kumar, the Malaysian commercial counselor in Guangzhou, told Xinhua that China has become the largest importer and exporter of his country.
"Malaysia's export to China keeps rising by double digits, and the increase rate in the first three quarters this year was around 18 percent," Kumar said. "Thanks to the free trade agreement, tariffs on over 9,000 product categories are zero or under 5 percent."
According to Kumar, Malaysia's most important export commodities to China are electronic products, paraffin, coconut oil and rubber, and consumer goods are also gaining popularity among Chinese families.
"In the future, we'll encourage Malaysian companies to come up with more promotions directly for Chinese consumers, more in-store activities, more cooperation with supermarkets and shopping malls," the commercial counselor said.
China and Malaysia have recently inked a five-year program for economic and trade cooperation, announcing an aim to expand annual bilateral trade to 160 billion dollars by 2017. "It's an ambitious target, but I think it's also an achievable one," Kumar said.
Investment growth is a new focus of China-ASEAN collaboration. Hoa Ha Company was a packing bag maker based in central China's Henan Province, but it moved to Vietnam 10 years ago because of growing cost pressures.
After a decade's operation, its factory in the country now employs 2,500 local workers.
"Our plant is now the biggest of its kind in north Vietnam," Woncar Chen, a sales manager of Hoa Ha Company, told Xinhua. "More than half of our products are sold in the domestic market of Vietnam, though we also export our products to the European Union and the United States."
"Compared with China, ASEAN members like Vietnam have their own advantages, such as lower labor costs," Chen said. "We'll make full use of such advantages."