By  on November 21, 2007

HONG KONG — As 2008 draws near, Asia's trade industry finds itself addressing three topics: the introduction of Macau as a major player on the exhibition circuit, environmental issues and the safety of Chinese-produced goods.

Worry about the latter certainly is having an effect, as evidenced by the recent Canton Fair. China's largest trade show closed at the end of October with an 8.3 percent drop in overall attendance. On the heels of much-publicized recalls, attendance by American buyers fell 10 percent. Although there was a 3 percent rise in the value of orders at the Canton Fair, organizers were still left defending China-made goods.

"Chinese exports are all safe," said Xu Bing, the fair's vice secretary general.

For those in the garment, textile and accessories trade, safety concerns might not be as prevalent as for those working in toys or food, but there is still evidence of newfound awareness at shows. At the most recent editions of the China Sourcing Fair, which introduces Chinese producers of fashion accessories, underwear and swimwear to an international market, many jewelry manufacturers displayed prominent signs declaring that "no nickel" or "no lead" is used in production. Tommy Wong, general manager of China Sourcing Fairs for Global Sources, said, "There is no question that both buyers and suppliers are aware of this situation. They are spending a lot more time discussing production. For the spring fair we have arranged a seminar with Bureau Veritas, which will discuss this issue and lead us in talks about safety," he said.

Perrine Ardouin, senior event manager of the Asia Pacific Leather Fair (March 31 to April 2), said that while safe production and environmental issues are always a concern, "It's nothing new for tanners and the leather industry."

She said including seminars on such topics as REACH (the new European regulation on the use of chemicals) and RSL, or Restricted Substance Lists, helps promote discussion about these topics, but even more important is communication between buyers and manufacturers.

"In general, problems arise when you are selling huge quantities of lower-end products," said Ardouin. "This doesn't happen in smaller quantities because the working relationship between the buyer and the supplier is so important. And because these businesses are related to expensive materials and fashion, the manufacturers are very aware and better prepared. There is no point in [smaller manufacturers] trying to cheat anyone, they will lose their business," she said.While safe production is one issue expected to have an effect at Asia's fairs, the growing trend is a focus on environmental issues. Interstoff Asia Essentials (March 12 to 14), which highlighted recycled, organic and environmentally friendly fabrics during its autumn edition, will add a new categorization for eco-textiles in the coming spring. Katy Lam, general manager of trade fairs for Messe Frankfurt, which organizes Interstoff Asia, said the goal is to "clearly identify which aspects of the fabric are eco-friendly. Currently we are only using the green or silver leaf logos, but the new labeling will cover raw materials, manufacturing processes and finishing processes," she said, noting the rapid development of this aspect of the fair. "The evolution of Interstoff Asia Essential as a...sourcing ground for textile buyers with a green conscience has happened fairly quickly. It's a process we intend to actively cultivate and promote," she said.

Interstoff Asia Essential will also unveil new labeling for functional fabrics. "The Taiwan Textile Federation has identified and described 28 different functions in its system and we will use that system to label fabrics at the show," said Lam.

Attendees of Prime Source (March 31 to April 2), the apparel industry's annual forum in Hong Kong, can expect both safety and the environment to be major topics of discussion alongside industry concerns over trade with China at the end of 2008, when European quotas and American safeguards will no longer apply.

The event is endorsed by the American Apparel & Footwear Association and Europe's Foreign Trade Association and is expected to draw about 500 participants who will be able, for the first time, to opt to join topical workshops. Topics, not yet confirmed, are likely to include branding and franchising, intellectual property, radio frequency identification, restrictive substances and security.

In the meantime, Michael Duck, senior vice president of CMP Asia, which organizes both Prime Source and APLF, is also keeping an eye on Macau, where the recent opening of The Venetian's mammoth exhibition center has had an immediate impact on trade in the region. CMP Asia will hold its first show there in January, the Macau Jewellery and Watch Fair (Jan. 10 to 13).Duck said that so far industry insiders are hearing positive things about the new venue. "As far as organization goes, so far there have been no problems — everyone is very professional. It's going to be interesting in terms of visitors. We have to see how they'll take to the venue," he said.

Duck said one tactic CMP Asia is taking is to make the fair open to trade and public alike. "There will be a mix of trade and high-net-worth individuals [at the show]," he said.

In June, Neway Fairs will also put on a jewelry show in Macau, JMA Macau (June 14 to 17), but garment and textile producers aren't looking to make a move just yet.

"It is highly unlikely that Messe Frankfurt will host textile or garment fairs in Macau, which is far better suited for consumer product fairs," said Lam.

So, while jewelry fair organizers test the waters in Macau, the garment, textile, accessories and footwear industries are sticking with Hong Kong and China.

In Hong Kong, the addition of underwear and swimwear to the China Sourcing Fair (April 12 to 15) has proved a hit: Buyers can expect to find eight specialized product pavilions in the Fashion Accessories sector as well as an expanded underwear and swimwear hall. "We're anticipating a 30 percent increase in size," said Global Sources' Wong.

Also in Hong Kong, APLF will showcase 1,500 exhibitors. Ardouin said, "Footwear is an important sector that has suffered in recent years, but we are anticipating more footwear at the next show — especially from Latin America and Europe."

Leather manufacturers will also be able to find a new addition: the MMT Design Zone, which introduces pattern designers to suppliers. The fair's popular Design-a-Bag competition will also feature more categories and the participation of several sponsors, including Saga Furs.

Elsewhere, it's worth noting that fiber and yarn fair SPINEXPO (Feb. 27 to 29) will be held at a new venue, the Shanghai Pudong Expo, while CHIC, the China International Clothing and Accessories Fair (March 28 to 31), will for the first time showcase women's, men's and children's apparel concurrently. The event will take place at the New China International Exhibition Centre in Beijing.

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