The language barrier, cultural differences and geographical distance make finding business partners in China a difficult task. However, such an endeavor can be accomplished by making strategic use of the following resources:
Nowadays, it is relatively easy to locate companies on the Internet. Yet this is only the first step in a long journey to find trustable business partners.
Online business directories are a good place to start.
The predominant solution is Alibaba, a platform that lists Chinese suppliers in more than 10 languages.
Other specialized websites are:
State-owned and private companies like automotive corporations, steel pipe mills or private equity funds, to name a few examples, can be found through the usual search engines (Google, etc.).
To maximize the results for products such as electronics, machinery, spare parts etc., hire Mandarin-speaking staff. Baidu, the most popular search engine in Mainland China, offers a wide range of options not found on Western websites.
Attend Trade Fairs to Meet Business Partners in China
Trade shows present an excellent opportunity to meet professionals from your industry and engage new customers.
On the one hand, trade fairs held in Western countries bring together Chinese companies with market knowledge, adherence to local standards, experience in import/export operations, bilingual staff etc.
In this regard, there is a wide variety of events focused on commercial ties between China and the West. A representative example is the China-LAC Business Summit, an event organized under the auspices of the China-CELAC Forum.
On the other hand, events held in Asia offer a greater variety of options but with different levels of experience in Western countries. It is worth mentioning that the scale of events in China is immense. Just to have a look at the booths in Auto China or the Canton Fair, visitors must walk for three to four days.
These are some of the most recognized trade shows in China:
- Auto China
Official name: Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition 2019 (Auto Shanghai 2019).
Date: April 18 to 25, 2019
Venue: The event alternates between Beijing and Shanghai on an annual basis. In 2019, it will be held in Shanghai, at the National Exhibition & Convention Center.
Description: Auto China focuses on both the national and international automotive industry. It is considered one of the most important automotive shows in the world on a par with those organized in Detroit, Frankfurt, Paris and Tokyo.
- Asia Fruit Logistica
Date: September 4 to 6, 2019.
Venue: AsiaWorld-Expo, Hong Kong.
Description: The trade show focuses on fresh products such as fruits and vegetables. It brings together more than 10,000 specialists to provide networking and direct negotiation opportunities with companies in the industry.
- China Fruit & Vegetable Fair
Official name: China International Fruit & Vegetable Fair (ChinaFVF)
Date: September 9 to 10, 2019.
Venue: Crowne Plaza Beijing Sun Palace, Beijing.
Description: During the annual event, officers in charge of import policies of fresh products to China meet with representatives of embassies, trade associations and businesspeople to discuss inspection policies and develop new protocols.
- China International Furniture Fair – CIFF
Guangzhou phase 1: March 18 to 21, 2019.
Guangzhou phase 2: March 28 to 31, 2019.
Shanghai: September 8 to 11, 2019.
Guangzhou: Canton Fair Complex, PWTC Expo, NICEC.
Shanghai: National Exhibition & Convention Center.
Description: Trade show specializing in furniture for all types of spaces. It is held annually in two locations, Guangzhou and Shanghai. Its exhibition space exceeds one million square meters and houses more than 6,000 exhibitors.
- Canton Fair
Official name: China Import and Export Fair.
First phase: April 15 to 29, 2019.
Second phase: April 23 to 27, 2019.
Third phase: May 1 to 5, 2019.
Venue: China Import and Export Fair (Pazhou) Complex, Guangzhou.
Description: The Canton Fair is undoubtedly the most representative of the country. It congregates 22,000 exhibitors three times a year to present attractive offers to buyers from all over the world.
- SIAL China
Official name: Global Food Marketplace – SIAL China
Date: May 14 to 16, 2019.
Venue: Shanghai New International Expo Center (SNIEC), Shanghai.
Description: One of the largest exhibitions on food innovation in the world, it gathers more than 3,000 exhibitors to present the most recent advances in food internationally.
- Yiwu International Trade City
More than a trade fair, the city of Yiwu is itself a complete service station for small importers from all over the world. Unlike the Canton Fair, finished retail products are available for sale.
Yiwu International Trade City remains open for most of the year, except for public holidays like Chinese New Year. Its commercial offering focuses on products used daily, such as crafts, decorations, electronics, toys, tools, gifts and clothing.
China organizes thousands of specialized trade shows every year. Do not hesitate to participate in those related to your industry.
Some projects require a dialogue between governments. Such is the case of new import and export agreements and/or protocols for raw materials or products, as well as foreign investment projects.
With the rise of the middle class in China, the demand for foreign goods is increasing, particularly for comestible oil, meat, fish, dairy products, fruits and liquors.
New cross-border e-commerce channels allow these products to reach first-, even second- and third-tier cities, thus opening new markets.
Agencies that promote international trade offer a valuable source of business partners. It is advised to approach them to obtain information and support in certain sectors.
These are some of the organizations that assist commercial development and investment in Western countries:
The Department for International Trade is responsible for trade agreements between the United Kingdom and non-EU states.
- Business France
French government agency that promotes exports and inward investments to the country.
Public business entity that promotes the internationalization of Spanish companies.
The equivalent institution in China is the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade or CCPIT.
Chambers of Commerce
China’s economic growth has attracted a great number of foreign companies. To increase their productivity, many have joined forces to form chambers of commerce.
These organizations provide services oriented towards certain geographic regions and/or industries. Seek advice from those that provide information about companies in China.
The following chambers of commerce have a presence in China:
- AmCham China
- The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China
Firms Specialized in Finding Chinese Business Partners
Consulting companies can swiftly locate qualified business partners in China.
Services such as enterprise matchmaking, business agendas, visits to trade fairs, due diligence, audits and project management streamline search and selection processes in a professional manner.
In particular, consultancy firms established in China offer the following advantages:
- Legal certainty
- Custom audits
- Communication with business owners or senior executives
- Swift inspections
- Reduction of international travel expenses
Additionally, local consultants maintain direct contact with your business counterparts to expedite communication and avoid misunderstandings, delays, mistakes and fraud.
Furthermore, when working locally, consultants can quickly pinpoint multiple business partners and select only the most reliable.
The resources listed here lead to collaboration with enterprises in China and require long term commitment. As such, it is important to understand the mindset of your business counterparts.
The cultural gap between China and the West is wide. For example, Chinese professionals prefer to communicate via telephone rather than e-mail and are more responsive to face-to-face meetings than written instructions.
For these reasons, it is preferable to:
- Hire personnel able to understand both Western methods as well as Chinese language and culture.
- Base staff in China to interact frequently with your business partners.
- Take advantage of WeChat, the preferred communication tool in China. Interact via audio or video messages rather than sending e-mails or text messages.
An efficient way of communicating consists of sending a formal e-mail and follow up with communication via WeChat, telephone calls or face-to-face conversations on a frequent basis.
In future publications we will talk more about the cultural differences between China and the West as well as their influence on commercial relationships.
Our Advice on How to Locate Business Partners in China
It is relatively easy to find companies in China to collaborate on commercial projects. However, what matters most is to develop mutual trust.
To achieve this end, maintain active communication by basing members of your team in China. Doing so will clear out many of the challenges of international business.