by Cynthya Porter; Photo courtesy of AmCham Shangha
Tension and uncertainty provoked by a tariff war between the U.S. and China has kept the economy, and the tradeshow marketplace in particular, off balance for the better part of 2019, at least in the U.S. Anecdotal evidence from shrinking show floors, canceled events and sluggish growth seems to point, at least in part, to the strained relationship with China, with events like the Seafood Expo North America noting a decrease in Chinese exhibitors and Interbike being canceled this year, citing, among other things, increased tariffs on Chinese bicycle parts.
But the same strain may not be true for exhibitions in China, where officials are saying they expect better attendance from U.S. companies for at least one event than ever before.
The China International Import Expo held its inaugural event in 2018 in Shanghai and came out with a bang: An estimated 800,000 attendees visited 3,617 exhibitors on a show floor of nearly 3 million square feet. Among them were approximately 170 companies from the U.S., with giants like 3M even launching some of the newest products to the show’s audience.
Officials say there were more than 150 countries present at the show, with many of the buyers coming from state-owned companies and regional governments throughout China.
Modeled specifically as an import show, the event is part of China’s effort to be viewed as a consumer of global goods, and officials say 2018 saw just shy of $58 billion in purchase orders originate from the show floor. Advocates call it a good effort by China to improve its trade relationships, but continued banter between White House officials and Chinese leaders has sparked a growing number of trade tariffs along with an edict from President Trump that American companies stop doing business with China.
But show organizers for this year’s expo say even more U.S. companies are exhibiting than last year on a show floor that will grow to 3.87 million square feet. According to organizers, more than 250 of the world’s top 500 companies will be in attendance, many of them from the U.S. The type of goods being exhibited include high-end equipment, consumer electronics and appliances, apparel, automobiles, food and agricultural products, medical equipment and medical care products, service industry suppliers, emerging technology, education, tourism and more.
With a blossoming middle class, China represents one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and despite tariffs and demands from President Trump to stop doing business there, it is a lucrative marketplace for U.S. companies to do business in.
In the U.S., the Center for Exhibition Industry Research says the tradeshow industry is expected to grow by approximately 1.6 percent in 2019, down from the significantly more optimistic 2.5 percent projected at the end of last year. For many, the outcome of the trade talks between the U.S. and China will have a strong impact on the health of the exhibition industry for the foreseeable future, as well as on the U.S. economy as a whole.
Cynthya Porter is a 70-time award-winning journalist recognized by national and international associations for her journalistic expertise in tradeshow topics, travel writing, photography and news. She has covered the exhibition industry since 2011 and, though she makes her home in the Midwest, she travels the world in search of interesting stories and photographs.