Udayavni Special

COVID-19: Exporters look to virtual trade fairs, exhibitions to connect with global buyers

PTI, Apr 14, 2020, 4:24 PM IST

New Delhi: With traditional export markets going into lockdown and imposing travel restrictions to control COVID-19 outbreak, exporters and importers of the country are finding it difficult to connect with global buyers to keep their business going.

And even if the situation normalises in the near future, domestic and global traders would be apprehensive about travelling for participating in international trade fairs and exhibitions which are key in getting new orders and expanding customer base.

To deal with these emerging issues, domestic exporters are working on an innovative way to engage with global buyers – to turn to virtual trade fairs and exhibitions.

Organising virtual or online trade shows would help Indian exporters to showcase their products and keep the economic activity wheel moving, Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) Director General Ajay Sahai observed.

To take the concept to reality, the FIEO is working on India’s first international online sourcing show – India Sourcing Week 2020 – this year, he commented.

Sahai explained that buyers would like to see products online to source products as Indian suppliers would face challenges in participating in international trade shows due to travel restrictions in different countries.

Global buyers would also not like to attend events or make factory visits due to health risks. Also, in such a crisis-like situation, India’s key traditional markets like the US and Europe will take over a year to recover from this outbreak, he said.

Sahai said that virtual shows would help in attracting new buyers in emerging markets like Africa, ASEAN and Latin America and support Indian exporters.

“Through this, we would like to create a short-term and targeted event for quick results for suppliers to generate additional or new revenue. We can organise region focussed events to grow Indian suppliers” base and increase exports,” he said.

Sharing similar views, Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) Director-General Rakesh Kumar said they are also working on similar lines to organise a virtual trade show for global buyers.

He said that they have recently cancelled the spring edition of IHGF (Indian Handicrafts and Gifts Fair), Asia’s largest show, which was slated to be held from April 15, due to the spread of coronavirus infection.

“It was expecting 7,000 overseas volume buyers and over 3,200 small and medium handicraft manufacturers and exporters as exhibitors from various parts of the country. The fair normally generates export orders worth Rs 6,000 crore and thereby is the source of livelihood to seven millions of craft persons,” Kumar said.

He added that an online platform would be created for this where exhibitors will display their products and some items can be showcased in three-dimension for a better feel of the product visually.

Another exporter said that although foreign buyers will miss the touch and feel in a virtual trade show, “but we cannot stop business as it will impact lives and livelihoods of millions of people who are engaged in the export business. Even after the situation gets normal, people will not like to travel.”

Indian exporters organise over 60 trade fairs and exhibitions annually and participate in about 500 such events globally every year. Rough estimates peg the market size of this business at about USD 500 million in India and USD 21 billion globally.

Ludhiana-based engineering exporter S C Ralhan, however, said that this practice may help certain sectors like handicrafts and clothing but not all as it will increase internal competition among exporters and hit their profit margins.

Similarly, Trade Promotion Council of India Chairman Mohit Singla, who organises a global food and beverage show – Indus Food every year, said that virtual trade fairs should be open for buyers throughout the year, but it must enroll only verified suppliers in order to develop trust between seller and buyer.

“Payment would be an issue in such events as it would not be the job of the marketplace to ensure payments,” he said.

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