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What is the Canton Fair (China Import & Export Fair)?

China Import and Export Fair

The Canton Fair (Import & Export Fair)

The Canton Fair (also known as China Import and Export Fair) is a trade event in China organized by the China Foreign Trade Centre (CFTC) and dually hosted by the Ministry of Commerce of China and the government of Guangdong Province. Considering its start date and consistency, it is regarded as the oldest and largest trade event in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Thus, invariably the highest revenue generating trade fair in China. In conjunction with other exhibitions held in Guangzhou and Shanghai, the total venues operated by the CFTC in these areas top the world’s exhibition facilities with about 10,700,000 sq.m in total.

The event chiefly showcases locally made products and services from China with some imported products in the minor.

Anybody considering importing products from China whether to sell in their offline or online store should consider attending this event. Popular Chinese e-commerce websites like Alibaba may offer great deals, the Canton Fair offers many more and going to this China Fair has many benefits, one being the chance to create a relationship with a supplier, face-to-face, which is important in the Chinese Culture.

Brief History of The Canton Fair

1957 – Canton Fair Industry Showroom (Source: Wikipedia)

The Canton Fair was first hosted in April 1957 by the Government of Guangzhou Province and China’s Ministry of Commerce. It represents the progression of China’s economy from the 19th century to date.

The first hosted Canton Fair was held in the former Sino-Soviet Friendship Building in North Guangzhou. The space measures about 18, 000 sq.m and comfortably accommodated the then guests.  Seventeen years later, the fair was moved to the Liuhua Complex with a ground area of 170,000 sq.m and remained there for many years until the 104th session.

Since 2007, it has been referred to as China Import and Export Commodities Fair, a change from the former name which embraces the “Export” only. Former full name was Chinese Export Commodities Fair and it showcases more than 20,000 exhibitors and above 50,000 booths in most of its sessions ever since.

It is, however, worthy to know that Canton was the former name of the Guangzhou city which has the only port in China open to foreigners and regarded as the third largest Chinese city after Shanghai and Beijing.

The China Import and Export Commodities Fair has witnessed massive business turnovers as high as $30.16 billion (USD) and buyers’ attendance of about 190,000 (in 2018).

The business turnovers are by buyers from different regions of the world most notably Asia, Europe, America, Africa, Oceania. Most of the sessions have more buyers from countries like USA, Russia, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Chinese Taiwan than other countries represented.

Where is the Canton Fair Held?

The Canton Fair has since 2008 been held at China Import and Export Fair (Pazhou) Complex, 380 Yuejiangzhong Road, Haizhu District, Guangzhou 510335. The complex is also known as Guangzhou International Convention and Exhibition Centre and new Pazhou Complex, because of its location.

The Complex is located on Pazhou Island, southeast of the city of Guangzhou, China. The center features modern facilities and an enchanting environment that is worthy of the exhibition itself. Its unique and ingenious design span a land mass of over 1,131,000 sq.m with the world’s largest exhibition hall of 157,935.21 sq.m.

Canton Fair Dates

The fair is held twice a year (autumn and spring sessions) witnessing more visitors than any other trade events in China. These sessions are each divided into three phases featuring different products and services category. Each phase lasts for 5 days where lots of contacts are exchanged and trades in billions are executed.

Canton Fair Dates & Time 2019

  • The 126th China Import and Export Fair (Canton Fair) Phase Dates:
    Phase 1: 15th – 19th October 2019 (9:30-18:00)
    Phase 2: 23rd – 27th October 2019 (9:30-18:00)
    Phase 3: 31st October – 4th November 2019 (9:30-18:00)

Canton Fair Dates & Time 2020

  • The 127th China Import and Export Fair (Canton Fair) Phase Dates:
    Phase 1: 15th – 19th April, 2020 (9:30-18:00)
    Phase 2: 23rd – 27th April, 2020 (9:30-18:00)
    Phase 3: 1st May – 5th May, 2020 (9:30-18:00) 

  • The 128th China Import and Export Fair (Canton Fair) Phase Dates:
    Phase 1: 15th – 19th October, 2020 (9:30-18:00)
    Phase 2: 23rd – 27th October, 2020 (9:30-18:00)
    Phase 3: 31st October – 4th November 2020 9:30-18:00


Phases and Exhibited Products

Guangzhou International Convention and Exhibition Centre and new Pazhou Complex
Guangzhou International Convention and Exhibition Centre and new Pazhou Complex

Each phase of a session of the event usually witnesses different products and merchants as the product that interest everybody differs. The products displayed for each phase is the same or slightly different for the event sessions. For instance, the category of products displayed for phase 1 (View Product List) of the spring session will be the same for the phase 1 of the autumn session provided the organizers do not deem it fit to include a new category.

People wishing to import electronics related products should schedule their arrival for phase 1 of the event. The phase product categories include: Electronics & Household Electrical Appliances; Lighting Equipment; Vehicles & Spare Parts; Machinery, Hardware & Tools; Energy + Resources; Chemical Products; Building Materials.

For dealers looking for products that can be re-branded back home, the phase 2  (View Products List) should present all they need. The phase product categories include: Consumer Goods; Gifts; Home Decorations.

The phase 3 (View Product List) product categories include: Office Supplies; Cases & Bags; Recreation Products; Medical Devices and Health Products; Food; Shoes; Textiles & Garments.

This, however, should not discourage you from travelling early. Buyers are allowed entrance to all of the phases provided they possess the Buyer Card which is the only requirement to be allowed into the building.

All of the phases also feature an international pavilion where imported products to China are displayed. This may be of less interest to most visitors but they are worthy of being checked out especially if you are in search of a new industry or product to invest in.


How to attend the Canton Fair (as a buyer)

Overseas Buyers RegistrationCanton Fair attendees will need a Buyer Card (Badge) which is the only official admission requirement at the venue. The buyer card can only be gotten online and in person at specified locations in Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

To save yourself some few bucks (about 150RMB) and time, it is advisable to order the badge through an online pre-application portal. If you are a first-timer, the Badge is free when applied for online. A receipt will be sent to you via Express Channel and can be used to apply for China Visa and also used to claim the original Buyer Card when you get to China.

To apply online, you will need to visit the official website of the organizer. It is advisable to use a new email address aside your official one for this purpose and it should be from a different host provider other than Gmail because Gmail is blocked in China mainland and aside from that, a new email will save you of spams and you can easily exchange it with suppliers at the event without worrying about being spammed with promo newsletter. The following will be needed to complete your registration after confirming your email address via a link that will be sent to you:

  • Most Recent Passport Photo (5cm x 4cm)
  • A business card

If the application is accepted, you will be able to print the Buyer Entry Badge as a Pre-application receipt which would be used later when you arrive China to get the original Buyer Badge at any of the approved centers and locations.

If you are lucky to lodge in any of the organizers 30 partnering hotels or nearer on your arrival, you can easily get your original Buyer Card there and avoid the stress of getting it at the event center. The appointed hotels include: Garden Hotel Guangzhou which is rated as foreigners’ favorite hotel; the Westin Guangzhou is perfect if you are planning on travelling to the venue in train; Four Points by Sheraton Dongpu lodge price is the cheapest of all 5-star hotels near Canton Fair; the Westin Pazhou within the landmass of the event venue and a walk distance to the event, run by Canton Fair; and Shangri-La Hotel Guangzhou which is located beside the Canton Fair Complex.

Click here for more details on Attending the Canton Fair.


Required Documents to Claim Your Buyer Card on Arrival

The documents required to be presented at appointed locations to pick up your original Buyer Card is determined by your means of entering China, Nationality, and type of registration.

If you are a first-time buyer who has applied online through the methods discussed before, you will need to present your printed pre-application receipt and originals of valid personal travel documents for confirmation of your entry legality into the country.  For people who will be buying their badge on arrival, in addition to the documents required of first-time buyers, you will also need to present your most recent passport photo and business card.

Chinese living abroad are required to present above-one-year overseas work visa in addition to their Chinese passport.


Why You Should Attend

Canton Fair StandsFor buyers, if you have been closing lots of deal on China platforms like Alibaba or will like to start importing from China, the Canton Fair is a great opportunity for you to meet many suppliers face-to-face. It will surprise you most of these suppliers with great products and offers are not on notable China wholesale websites. Aside from this, you may get a new business idea by identifying a new product you could start trading, and there will be no need of shipping few quantities first to test the quality as you will be seeing things directly with no need of graphics display.

You can also negotiate great deals with sellers and get an instant response without the need of waiting for days to get reply if it had been through an e-commerce platform.

There is also the opportunity of networking with different people from around the world.

For exhibitors, if your company has been thinking of expanding into new areas like China, the trade fair is a great opportunity to test run your product acceptability in the region. And since most countries aside from China will be represented, the avenue can be used to promote your product or service to different countries represented and who knows, you may be making a lifetime deal that opens the door for your product in a different country you never thought of before.


Is it mandated to have a Chinese Visa?

A Chinese visa is required to attend the event. The pre-registration receipt or official invitation printed online can be used to get a Visa at the Embassy or Consulate General of PRC in your country. If you are entering through Guangzhou ports, you may apply for a port visa (visit this link Or use the appointed travel agent of the Canton Fair China Travel Service (Tel: 852-2853 9113, Email:


What Should I Do Before Leaving Home?

To make sourcing of the products you are targeting easier when you get to the trade fair, do an online research of top manufacturing companies and suppliers of the products. You can also check their website. Most of them will include information about them attending the Canton Fair on their side and where their booth will be located. This will save you the stress of checking for probable options and can help you make decisions faster.


Tips for your stay and attending the fair

Remember you are here for business and should not overspend on accommodation or transport. This does not mean staying in an uncomfortable facility. Booking a residence close to the Trade Fair complex may be expensive but if you can afford it, lucky you. When the trade fair date is closer, booking price will increase, so, make sure you book early and deposit if you can’t pay full advance because most of these hotels usually overbook to ensure their rooms are filled up. When they cancel an order, it is usually for people who do not make advance payment.

You may consider booking a hostel through AirBnB in case your budget cannot accommodate the cost of a hotel close to the Trade Fair Complex.

If you are in the adventurous end, consider booking your hostel or hotel in or close to the Pearl River New Town which features lots of entertaining events like bars, shopping and restaurants. Even if you are not staying here, you should include it in your itinerary. It expands your chance of getting meeting more people.

In all, no matter what, try to book a residence not too far from the Fair Complex to avoid riding long duration back to your place after the daily stress. If at all you will be staying at a place farther which invariably gives the chance of exploring the city more ― ascertain there is an easy shuttle to the complex and your residence. This should be at a lower cost to avoid escalating expenses.

Navigating the Whole Complex

Before leaving home, check the area mapping on the organizer’s official website to locate where products you are interested in would be.

Endeavour to get a map at the information counter. This will make your navigation of the complex easier and you will also be able to get to your intended product section easily. The building design is well planned such that getting around is easy and you could use the footbridge to get to the other side street.


What should I bring?

cabin bag to the event
Wheel your cabin bag to the event

Security should be your number priority. Make sure your bag has a lock especially the one you will be moving around with.

Also, don’t forget to go along with many of your business cards as you will be doing a lot of exchanging with vendors and people you will be meeting at the fair.

You will also be receiving lots of business cards which may get too much to move around with. A stapler will come in handy to pin these cards together. Nevertheless, going along with a jotter to take note during your trip and writing important things you will like to remember about each supplier you talked to is advisable.

Don’t be disappointed to walk into a toilet that has no toilet paper. So, go along with yours’.


How Should I Dress to The Event?

You don’t need to dress heavy, packing your casual clothes will do except you have a special appointment or deal that may require a more elegant outfit. And since you will be moving around a lot, it is recommended to go along with walk compatible shoes like sneakers that do not hurt after a long time of trekking.

  • Wheel your cabin bag to the event
    Before going to the event, empty your wheeled bag because you will be getting lots of flyers and catalogues when you arrive. Most vendors will exchange their catalogue for your business card. It will get too cumbersome to carry in your arms and that is where your wheeled bag comes in handy. You can easily tuck them away in it and effortlessly drag it along. In case you forgot to come along with your wheeled bag, consider writing vital info on the catalogue and flyers on a card or in a jotter to avoid collecting and carrying flyers and catalogues around.

  • Organizing Catalogues and Flyers
    To save the time of combing through heaps of catalogue to find the flyer or catalogue from company A you wish to contact again, always make signs on the promotional documents you receive be it a catalogue, flyer or business card. You can draw a sign at the tip of the ones you will like to contact again and make other signs on those you are not interested in.

  • Taking Pictures at The Trade Fair
    Of course, pictures are allowed at the event, but being a business event, it is advisable to focus your picture taking to the task at hand and few personal selfies. Take pictures with suppliers so that when you contact them after returning home, you can always forward them the picture for quick remembrance of your discussion and an improved relationship. You can also take pictures of products you are interested in to recheck at home or show to your boss. If you find it too difficult making out what a supplier is saying, ask them if they are comfortable with you recording it and you can play it later when you are more relaxed.

  • Schedule Some Free Time
    The trade fair could be more hectic than you anticipated especially if you are the type determined to cover most of the exhibition areas. For a fun-filled visit to China, you can schedule your visit to the Complex for 10:00 to 16:00 and use the remaining time to explore the city and even some shopping too before returning to your hotel. It is, however, important to plan this from home to avoid any impulse spending which may affect the trip budget.


What If I Don’t Want to Share My Business Card With Someone?

Well, you may say that blatantly but to appear polite and not rude, you can employ this simple trick. Print two different business cards. Let one have all your contact info, and that could be shared with most suppliers you are interested in dealing with later or importers you met at the event. If you don’t want them to contact you, give them a business card with your name only and omit the contact info like email address and phone number.

  • Handling Culture Shock
    Have it at the back of your mind that China culture differs from what you are used to. Their food and services too may differ, so get ready for a new cultural exposure and don’t appear disgusted when you come across anything that irritates you. Such may offend the locals and may hamper a great deal.

  • Locate Manufacturers Stand Instead of Trading Company
    Some of the exhibitors are not real manufacturers of the products they display. One way to discover this is when you see a booth with different brands on display. You may be able to negotiate great deals with them but such cannot compete a direct manufacturer’s offer.

  • Get to Know Who Is in Charge
    Another way to cut great deals is by getting to know the sales manager and in some cases the founders. If possible, get to schedule lunch with them to talk over the deal. Relating beyond the business level helps a lot.

  • Stick to The Plan
    There will be lots of products on display at the event since each phase features more than one product categories. Only visit the sections you are interested in at least for most of your allotted time to avoid wasting time in other sections you are most likely not invest in.

  • Visit Factories
    If you find a supplier with a great offer that suits your expectation, schedule a visit to their factory. It will amaze you they could have other products you are interested in back at the factory which they did not display at the event. Aside from that, a factory tour gives you an avenue to get to know more about your future partners and thus a better-cemented relationship.

  • Transportation to China
    You can fly straight to Guangzhou if the airline providers in your country have a route there. But most attendees of the Canton Fair prefer flying to Hong Kong (HK) and then travelling to Guangzhou by bus, train, ferry or air.

Travelling by bus to Guangzhou from Hong Kong Airport takes about 4 hours. Buses move every 20 mins from 8:00 to 20:00. You can find more info here.

You will need to take a taxi to the Hing Kong Hung Station if you prefer taking a train to Guangzhou. The journey should be about 1 or 2 hours in total.

Instead, you may take a flight to the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport which is located about 45 kilometers from the event Complex.  Taxis and buses can get you to your hotel or the event from here.

A ferry is also available from the airport for lovers of water. It moves every 10:30 and 18:50. This will take more time (more than 2 hours) except you want the experience.


What Local Transport is there?

There are varieties of available local transport, your preference and budget will determine which you choose.

Metro station would be closer to most places you will be visiting in the Guangzhou station. There are 2 subway and tram stations especially for the shuttle of the Canton Fair Complex. The cost is relatively minimal.

If you prefer travelling by bus, there are shuttle buses from the Trade Fair to your residence or anywhere you decide to visit. These buses are well equipped with amenities like air condition.

The location of the trade fair does not lack its share of world renown transport companies like Uber, Didi and Lyft. The uber is less expensive than a taxi and if you already have an account with uber back home, your account can be easily billed without the stress of providing details or using your card again.

Taxis are also available but it is advisable you make them the last resort to avoid being overcharged and language barrier issue too.


Do I need a Translator or Trade Assistant?

If you are fluent in English, the need for hiring a translator may be less as most booths will have someone who understands English. Same thing with the locals.

However, use simple vocabularies while communicating to avoid them misunderstanding or not even understanding you. And if you are can’t speak Chinese, or you discovered your inability to communicate in the local language is affecting rapport between you and suppliers, you may need the service of a translator or a trade assistant.

If in doubt, hire a Trade Assistant.


What Questions should I be asking?

Understand and plan your business model before leaving for the trade fair. Know your company’s capacity of MOQ’s (minimum order quantities) and how much you are willing to spend on shipping to achieve your targeted gain, say 10 percent of total cost-plus shipping is what you expect to gain in each unit order.

With this in mind, the right question to be asking suppliers before having a long-term schmooze should be related to your target. Ask about their FOB (Freight On Board) and EXW (Ex Works). If they can’t ship the MOQ’s you requested or subsidise shipping cost, for instance, move to other stands and not waste your time.

When you finally find one that answers yes to your prior questions, then start asking on their return policy and how long they have been in business. You may also request for contacts of present or past clients they have in your country if any; if a supplier is sure of their product such should not be hard to present.

Also, make sure you know the industry certifications are up-to-date and ask to see their package sample. Good packaging reduces damages to shipped products.


Where to Eat?

You can easily assess different food joints within the exhibition center. If you will prefer trying more varieties of local foods, you may visit restaurants located not too far from the Pazhou Complex such as WOK TOO Café which is about 0.4 miles from away.


Internet and Browsing

Although there are both cable and wifi internet broadband at the center available for use by visitors, they come with lots of limitation. Google and Facebook Apps are blocked since they are both blocked by the government. Also, you may experience difficulty in using it for other purpose considering the number of users and number of allowed users at a time. This means you may need to wait for someone to log out before you can gain access. Such is not a great option if you want to get quickly get company or product information such as review online while at their booth.

Consider getting a new sim when you arrive to use throughout your stay. In case you are interested in the use of provided internet service in the Canton Fair venue, ensure you connect with an active VPN to avoid being tracked and monitored by the country’s government.


Charging Your Phone

Your phone will be doing a lot at the center and there are no available ports for charging. So, go along with your power bank which you can always recharge when you get back to your hotel or hostel room.


Cash, ATM or Credit Card?

First thing, a credit card is more of being useless at the location. To decide between using the ATM or exchanging from home is determined by your country’s currency. If you have a stronger currency than that of China, consider going along with your ATM card. You will be able to access ATM and will get a good exchange for your money there. This will save you from carrying cash that may be stolen on your way or exchanging for counterfeit currency.

Having a cask on you will make you better convince suppliers. You may decide to buy a unit of their product to test in case they are reluctant to offer a free sample.

Moreover, most local shops in the city only accept cash.


How Long Should You Visit the Canton Fair?

Even though each phase of the trade fair lasts for five days, if you have a well-planned itinerary, you can two days fulfilling your visit purpose. On your first visit, engage as much as possible suppliers. When you get back to your apartment, make a shortlist of follow-ups which you can do the next day. If you have the time, your third day could be to visit factories and notable places you intend to.


Other Trade Fairs in China

The Canton Fair is surely not the sole renown trade fair in China. There are other trade fairs which usually coincides in the month Canton Fair is held. Most of these alternative trade fair shows are industry specific. You may want to attend this show separate or in conjunction with the Canton Fair. They include: China International Fashion Fair, Hong Kong International Diamond, Gem & Pearl Show, China International Furniture Fair (Guangzhou). Check the China Exhibition Website for more.


How to participate in International Pavilion Fair (as an Exhibitor)

In case you have a product you think could be welcome in China or want to tap into the mass attendance of the Canton Fair to market your product, you can register as an exhibitor in the international pavilion fair.

Qualification for the exhibitor stand in the international pavilion fair which was incorporated in 2007 is strictly for eligible countries or regions product aside from mainland China. The intending company must have been legally registered in the country of operation for more than 3 years and should be able to provide a copy of company registration certificate with the company’s stamp on it and other valid certificates as may be required. The organizers give priority to six major categories to attract high-quality exhibitors.

The categories include: Counterparts professional products; Energy-saving and environmentally-friendly products; High-technology products; Leading enterprises in the industry; Country or region with larger trade-deficit to China; Exhibitors applying for the custom-built booths.


Registration Process for International Pavilion Fair Exhibit

To register as an exhibitor in the international pavilion fair, you will need to visit the registration portal just as in the case of the buyer but you will be filing your requirements in the exhibitor section instead. You will be prompted to print the filled application form and sign & sealed to be sent to the organizer using any of their suitable contacts. All provided information will be reviewed by the organizers and if approved, a Notice of Payment will be sent to your company contact and you are expected honor the payment within 5 working days for complete authorization of your participation.

For the 125th session of the event, the organizer has included a VIP exhibitor of international pavilion which has superior packages compared to the former. However, there are some criteria required to be met before a company is awarded the package such as having a high reputation in your industry and three or more exhibition record in the last three years. Check here for the full criteria and highlights.

Tips on Preparing For The Trade Fair (as an Exhibitor)

Make sure you contact the nominated forwarders of Canton Fair to help transport your products to the venue on arrival. If you will be setting up your booth from scratch instead of sharing with other brands, confirm the required booth design from constructors verified by the organizer. Booths are usually 100 percent green compliance and it is cheaper thou.


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