- Yiwu International Trade market reopened on Tuesday, three days earlier than originally planned, with Zhejiang Textile City also now open for business
- Local governments are looking to gradually resume economic activity, but firms are still struggling with workers yet to return and logistics not yet fully functional
The world's largest trading centre for daily consumer goods in China's eastern manufacturing hub finally reopened its doors this week after the coronavirus outbreak, with officials reaching out to "foreign friends" that "Yiwu will be normal soon" as local governments attempt to gradually resume economic activity.
Yiwu International Trade market reopened on Tuesday, three days earlier than originally planned, largely because there have been no new confirmed cases in the Zhejiang city for around a week.
"Dear foreign friends, the fight against the coronavirus is about to enter the last stage. Yiwu will be normal soon," said a Yiwu immigration officer in English on a video posted on the department's social media platform.
"Please feel safe to (come) back to Yiwu and follow the instructions given by government authorities. Looking forward to seeing you all!"
On the same day, Zhejiang Textile City, one of the largest marketplaces for textile products in the city of Shaoxing, also in Zhejiang province, also opened for business, having remained closed for 18 extra days due to the virus. Around 60 per cent of shops reopened and more than 12,000 buyers visited the venue on opening day, according to a report from the official Zhejiang Daily.
The opening of the two large export marketplaces indicates that local governments are attempting to speed up the process for the reopening of businesses to make up for the loss of orders, with the virus taking its toll on towns and cities that are heavily reliant on trade to boost their economy.
But while this represents a step in the right directions for the economy, China is still weeks away from fully returning to normal, with most international flights suspended, making it difficult for potential buyers to visit the malls and trading centers.
Wang Qu, a small manufacturer of baking tools who has a booth at the Yiwu market, said while the market is open, it will take some time for business to pick up.
I am planning to wait for the virus to weaken further before we start productionWang Qu
"I am planning to wait for the virus to weaken further before we start production," Wang said.
Yiwu's total value of imports and exports rose to 296.7 billion yuan (US$42.4 billion) last year, around double its gross domestic product, implying a high dependence on trade to drive growth, with Africa and the Middle East the city's two largest trading markets by value, according to official data.
Manufacturers and logistics companies still, though, face delays and problems restarting production in the wake of the outbreak.
Bach Zhang, a Shaoxing-based small manufacturer of cotton yarn who mainly exports to South Korea, said that while his factory had reopened, he is still waiting for his 23 employees to return.
"Fortunately, my workers don't have to be quarantined since they are not from the high infection zones," Zhang said.
Shaoxing already took a hit from the US-China trade war last year, with exports to the United States down by 7.8 per cent, although it was able to offset the impact via other markets to grow its overall exports by 10 per cent to 225.1 billion yuan (US$32 billion) in 2019.
Local governments across Zhejiang province have simplified the process to approve companies to restart operations and many firms have arranged chartered transport and rewards to bring back workers as soon as possible.
The provincial government hopes that production capacity can reach at least 75 per cent by the end of February.
Containers mostly ship industrial goods and the index has clearly shown that the virus hit the exports of China's industrial goods, although the impact on imports didn't appear to be muchXu Qiyuan
The virus, which causes the disease formally known as Covid-19, has severely disrupted China's export manufacturing sector with production and shipments all suffering delays.
The export element of China Container-sized Freight Index, a gauge of market demand for shipping developed by the Shanghai Shipping Exchange, fell 2.93 per cent either side of the Lunar New Year holiday, which was the largest fall since the same period in 2008.
"Containers mostly ship industrial goods and the index has clearly shown that the virus hit the exports of China's industrial goods, although the impact on imports didn't appear to be much," said Xu Qiyuan, an economist from the China Academy of Social Sciences.
According to the index, shipping routes to Japan, Europe, South America, South Korea, the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea have been the hardest hit.
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