The spring session of the Canton Fair, China's oldest and largest trade expo, will be held online in the second half of June, the government has announced.
The event, which usually runs between mid-April and early May, was postponed last month over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.
The government's decision to shift the expo online marks the first time that the 63-year-old fair will not happen in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, underlining the unprecedented pressure facing the nation's export sector as the coronavirus disrupts global trade.
The biannual show, which normally lures about 200,000 buyers each session, went ahead during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic in 2003.
A meeting of China's State Council - the country's cabinet - led by Premier Li Keqiang said the move was due to "the grim global epidemic".
"The pandemic is accelerating with huge effects on the world economy and global trade," read a statement released on Monday.
Even in the era of e-commerce, the fair, which started in 1957, remains a key platform for Chinese exporters to showcase their products to potential buyers. It is often seen as a barometer of the country's trade economy.
Only four weeks ago, China still intended to have a full-scale physical event.
"Against the backdrop of foreign trade and foreign investment being hit hard by the epidemic, the spring session of the fair will have a particular significance," Li said at the time.
The threat of imported coronavirus infections, suspension of flights, and the closure of borders have since made it impossible to host a mass gathering.
As orders for Chinese products are vanishing from buyers in the United States and Europe, Beijing has shown growing concerns about the country's exports, a key engine of the economy, supporting about 180 million jobs.
There are signs that China's exports are getting worse after falling 17 per cent in the first two months of 2020.
Container handling at China's top eight ports fell 4.4 per cent in the week ending April 4 from the previous week, marking the first week-on-week fall since early February, according to data published by China Ports and Harbours Association.
Bank of America economists have estimated that China's exports could have fallen 14 per cent in March from a year earlier.
The fallout from coronavirus hit Chinese exports at a time when they were already experiencing long-term challenges, including rising labour and land costs and rising hostilities with the West.
Linda Chen, the manager of a Zhejiang-based company that produces supporting frameworks for laptops and tablets, said the specific form of the Canton Fair was not important given the challenges exporters faced in the current climate.
"The Canton Fair does not matter at this time, but the pandemic matters," Chen said. "We have to take orders very carefully. It could be useless even if an order is placed - orders nowadays can be cancelled easily."
Additional reporting Huifeng He
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