HONG KONG — With companies beginning to take China’s continued economic success and growth potential for granted, the region’s focus is turning toward global politics — namely on how a U.S.-led attack on Iraq could impact business and the adverse affects that terrorism might have in the region. More than this, however, is the state of the world’s economy that’s on everyone’s mind.

"We are expecting around 300 exhibitors at Interstoff Asia," said Katy Lam, General Manager of Trade Fairs for Messe Frankfurt, which organizes the fair. "But it really depends a lot on the world economy, especially the U.S. Hong Kong companies are especially dependent on exports to the U.S. and Europe. If these two economies aren’t good, it affects the show."

Lam said that while attendance at recent editions of Interstoff Asia has been down, such news is not necessarily bad. "Attendance was down, but they were very good buyers," she said. "No matter what, people need to source, to buy." Lam added that U.S. companies are more likely to send two important buyers, rather than a team of five, to a show.

Lam’s fair, which targets the U.S. and European markets as well as those in Asia, is more directly affected by world news than some others. Ann Chick, Senior Exhibitions Manager for the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, said that Hong Kong fairs have showed no signs of a drop-off in attendance from the U.S. "At the last Hong Kong Fashion Week in July, there was a 20 percent increase in visitors from the U.S. We haven’t really experienced a slowdown," she said.

But riding out economic troubles is one thing. Dealing with the ramifications of war is another.

"When there is a war, the economy is not great. A show like ours is very easily affected by the economy and what’s happening around the world," said Lam. "I have talked to a number of companies and everyone is worried about the possibility of war."

For some organizers, however, there is an upside. "War with Iraq will affect business in the U.S., not here," asserted Perrine Ardoin, Senior Event Manager of the Asia Pacific Leather Fair. "We have a lot of people who have a hard time trying to get visas now for U.S. shows. It’s one reason that Asian fairs are so appreciated."Indeed, the struggle for Middle Eastern businessmen, including those from India and Pakistan, to get permits to go to the U.S. is a constant topic here. And, of course, it is a direct result of the war on terrorism.

Terrorism’s impact on current events was brought home recently with the October terrorist bombing in Bali and the arrest of two alleged weapons buyers in Hong Kong. Still, terrorism does not rank high among concerns here. "We had a fair on October 24th, which was right after the bombing in Bali, and there was no decline in business," said the TDC’s Chick.

Lam concurred. "Unless something like Sept. 11 happens again, terrorism won’t affect business much. Even Sept. 11 showed that after two months, people get back to business, they travel again."

Of real concern in Asia, however, is security at the fairs. At the recent Hong Kong Jewelry Show, diamonds worth $4 million were stolen over a three-day period. At the October Asian Pacific Leather Fair (APLF), duplicitous visitors were caught using cell phones and watches to photograph merchandise. Even the normally incident-free Interstoff Asia had snap-happy visitors. Addressing the problem is a priority for organizers.

"We will continue to have a very strict limitation of buyers who can visit Top Style Hall," said the APLF’s Ardoin. "But it’s very difficult, actually. Chinese companies are changing all the time. The genuine manufacturers want to distribute their lines and in some cases it’s difficult to tell [who is genuine and who is not]. We are doing surveys and we visit these companies to see what they are," she said.

Lam has been dealing with infringement issues in China for some time and now has help at Intertextile Beijing.

"The new trademark regulations have not been published yet, but the Chinese government is doing a lot," she said. "There is an International Property Rights Bureau on site and they are quite active. They make immediate judgements and in extreme cases the bureau has the right to close down a booth that has been found guilty [of copyright infringement]."

In Hong Kong, where Interstoff Asia takes place, Lam says that other measures are called for. "We noticed some photo-taking at the last fair and we are discussing how to deal with it," she commented. "It really affects the mood of the show and it’s unprofessional. We will probably have to have cameras checked in and ask our security personnel to be extra vigilant."In the meantime, Asia is gearing up for important shows that feature quite a few improvements. The year begins with Hong Kong Fashion Week, which takes place Jan. 14 through 17. Chick says the fair will have a Fashion Gallery, in which high-end goods will be available. The Fashion Gallery will also feature a Body Wear Zone, and Intimate Wear Zone and a Bridal Wear Zone. "We see a lot of buyers who are looking for lingerie and bridalwear," said Chick, who is also organizing a seminar on the garment industry in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong. "Greater China is a hot topic and will be even hotter in 2005," she said.

Running during the same dates as Hong Kong Fashion Week will be World Boutique, a fair making its debut. Chick described the event as "an exhibition about lifestyle brands" and said that it will include fashion, lifestyle products, homewear, eyewear and jewelry. "We are bringing together all kinds of branded products. The rationale is that we, at the TDC, want to promote original brand names. A lot of buyers are looking for this — especially those from retailers and boutiques. They need to source names but don’t buy huge quantities."

World Boutique will also feature the very popular Asia Pacific Fashion Designers Show. It is normally a part of Hong Kong Fashion Week, but its dates have been changed to reflect its growing importance and influence. In fact, the Asia Pacific show has grown so significantly that both Korea and Taiwan will stage their own shows there on Jan. 15. A separate multinational show will follow on Jan. 16.

Elsewhere at the Asia Pacific show, some well-known brand names will also have runway shows, including Giordano and Michel Rene.

Intertextile Beijing will take place on March 17 through 19 in a new venue, the Beijing Exhibition Center. "Last year we didn’t have enough space," recalled Lam. "We had a temporary hall attached to the main hall and we still had a waiting list." This year exhibition space at Intertextile will double from 107,639 square feet in 2002 to 215,278 square feet.

She added that Intertextile is anticipating about 350 exhibitors and 15,000 visitors, compared with 300 exhibitors and 13,000 visitors in 2002. She expects a strong showing from wool producers looking to expand into the China market. "Wool is the most important fabrication in Beijing, because it services the northern part of China where the winters are longer and the summers are shorter," explained Lam. "Also, the Chinese are willing to pay a higher price for wool — more than for fabrics that they can produce themselves at a lower cost."At Interstoff Asia, which follows on Intertextile’s heels on March 25 through 27, visitors will find a Bodywear Pavilion that will encompass lingerie, swimwear, sportswear, fitness and dancewear. "We had a lingerie pavilion last spring, but the name didn’t cover the whole segment, so we changed it to Bodywear," said Lam. "Last time there were only eight to 10 exhibitors in the pavilion, but they were quite happy. We hope that by extending it, we will get good results." She declined to speculate on attendance for the show.

While the Bodywear Pavilion will have its own trend display, the trend forum set up in the main hall will be the main attraction at the spring show. Lam admitted that while the trend committee could not agree on which bright colors would be popular, it did notice some significant trends. "Colorwise, pastel and subtle colors are important. Bright colors are used to complement these. There are also lots of natural colors and darks." Lam said that other trends to look for would be semitransparent fabrics, silks, stripes, naive floral prints and fabrics with a luxurious feel.

Also important at Interstoff Asia will be the Indian Pavilion. According to Lam, India has adopted Chinese-style reforms and is ripe for business. "They have new technology and new management," she said. "What worried buyers in the past were delivery issues or having a finished product that looked nothing like the sample. That bad image needs to be replaced. We want to tell them what India has to offer." The pavilion will include 10 silk, 10 wool, 10 cotton and 10 other mills. "When buyers think of India, they think of hand-loomed cotton, hand-printed cotton, handwoven silk. These are all primitive, cottage industries and India wants to show that it’s not like that anymore."

At the APLF (April 7-10 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre), the Finished Products fair will run concurrently with the Raw Materials fair and will feature a "new focus on components." Look also for more activity from South American leather goods producers. "China is now a big attraction, whereas it used to be seen as the enemy, as competition," said Ardoin.Also important will be the first-ever Africa Pavilion at the APLF. CMP Asia, which organizes the fair, is working with the United Nations to bring exhibitors from that continent. "It’s the first time that developing countries from Africa are participating," said Ardoin. "We want to emphasize that the APLF is a global forum. It’s important that all players can participate."

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