Rwandans embrace China’s biannual Canton Trade Fair

Florent de la Paix Uwamahoro first visited the People’s Republic of China in 2003. Three years later, in 2006, he had the opportunity to attend the biannual China Import and Export fair (better known as the Canton Fair), also a first.
Peace Basemera (L), from MINICON and Gerard Mukubu Nkusi, deputy CEO PSF Rwanda give their remarks at the event. / Moses Opobo
Peace Basemera (L), from MINICON and Gerard Mukubu Nkusi, deputy CEO PSF Rwanda give their remarks at the event. / Moses Opobo

Florent de la Paix Uwamahoro first visited the People’s Republic of China in 2003. Three years later, in 2006, he had the opportunity to attend the biannual China Import and Export fair (better known as the Canton Fair), also a first.

At the time, he worked for local telecommunications service provider MTN in Kigali. It is the business idea he had in mind that prompted his travel to China; he had a dream to set up the first mobile phone assembly plant in Rwanda, as opposed to what everybody else was doing –importing and selling phones from abroad.


At the Canton Fair, he was lucky to link up with Edward Yin, the Chairperson of the Chinese Association in Rwanda. After listening to Uwamahoro’s mission and vision, Yin offered to take the young man on a tour of a giant phone manufacturing plant in Guangzhou, Southern China.


“I found out that this company was producing 2,540 handsets per day. This was 2006 and I was still working with MTN Rwanda. I realized that even if I was to import the phones for sale in Rwanda no one would buy them –not MTN and certainly not the government. I realized the dream was too big and I couldn’t achieve it at the moment so I proceeded to start something else.”


Redefining the Exhibition concept:

“I spent two weeks visiting various stalls at the exhibition but still I was very far from covering all the exhibitors. That’s how big the Canton Fair is. Stop imagining it as a normal expo but something bigger and better than what most Rwandans have seen,” Uwamahoro revealed during a promotion event for the forthcoming 120th session of the Fair at the Lemigo Hotel in Kigali on Tuesday night.

He advised those interested in making it to the fair to start by identifying their core interests;

“Ask what do I want to see and what do I want to learn while at the expo? Because the exhibitors are so many and the place is so big that if you wanted to visit each stall you would not get to your goal. So it’s better to decide in advance what you want to learn or see so that you go there with a set mind. Do not dream small because the sky is the limit.”

Organized by the Rwanda Private Sector Federation, the Economic and Commercial Counselor’s office of the Embassy of China in Kigali and the Rwanda China Association, the event sought to bring the local business community up to speed on the opportunities that abound at the exhibition.

The fair takes place twice each year (spring and autumn) at the China Import and Export (Canton) Complex, the largest modernized exhibition center in Asia, located on Pazhou Island, Guangzhou, China.

The complex covers a total construction area of 1,100,000 M2 with the indoor exhibition area of 338,000 M2 and the outdoor exhibition area of 43,600 M2.

With a history of 55 years since its inception in 1957, the fair boasts a comprehensive exhibit variety, with the broadest distribution of overseas exhibitors and exhibition goers in the whole of China. 

Since its inception in 1957, the fair has held 118 successful sessions and has been positioned as the window, symbol and epitome of China’s economic liberalization policies.

Presently the number of exhibitors (local and foreign) stands at more than 24,000. In each session, about 200,000 buyers attend the Fair from more than 200 countries and regions all over the world.

Speaking at the event, Gerard Mukubu Nkusi, the deputy CEO of PSF Rwanda described the forthcoming fair as “an opportunity for business”.

“Normally our own Expo in Rwanda takes about two weeks, but the Canton Fair will last one month. This is such a long time and we will be happy to learn how it’s organized, and we will benchmark our activities to the Canton Fair activities and try to establish partnerships and joint ventures for our local business delegation with their Chinese counterparts,” he explained, adding that Guangzhou, the city that hosts the Canton Fair “is now like a second city of Rwanda”;

“It’s like Musanze in the Northern Province, and this is all because we have many business operators flying to Guangzhou from Rwanda every week to import many products from China.”

He further revealed that many Rwandan business people were now registering and setting up companies in China –in international logistics, manufacturing, and transport, to name but a few.

“We want your country to facilitate us to get a piece of land in China where we will have a warehouse which will serve as a one-stop storage point for Rwandan products,” he appealed to his Chinese counterparts.

“With our new philosophy of Made in Rwanda products, we are planning to produce high quality products and in large quantities which will be needed on the Chinese market.”

Peace Basemera, the Director Trade and Negotiation at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry used the occasion to extend thanks to the government of China for its continued cooperation with Rwanda and that has been strengthened particularly in the areas of trade, investment and tourism.

“When China introduced the destination status Rwanda was very happy because by that time we had not seen any tourists from China in the country. When China approved our destination status we were able to receive some tourists from China. Apart from that we’ve been cooperating in trade whereby our traders export to China and also import from the country.

The cooperation between China and Rwanda involves some products from Rwanda that China has allowed on duty free and quota free terms, meaning you can export at zero export duty.”

She cited some of the products that China imports duty free from Rwanda as coffee and tea, minerals, dry beans, and peas.

“We should take advantage of this and export more to China. Canton Fair is also an opportunity for us to get exposure to new technologies that we should adopt in our own production value chain and also to clinch supply contracts with Chinese business people.”

Exhibitors will be grouped under two categories –the National Pavilion and International Pavilion.

The National Pavilion will stage exhibitions in three phases, with the first phase running from October 15-19th.

This phase will cater for exhibitors showcasing Electronics and household electrical appliances, lighting equipment, vehicles and vehicle spare parts, machinery, power and electrical equipment, bicycles and motor cycles, among others.

Under machinery there is construction and agricultural machinery, general machinery, small processing machinery, and large machinery and equipment.

Phase two runs from October 23-27th, and is specifically dedicated to consumer goods and gifts –ranging from kitchen and table ware, general ceramics, household items and personal care products, pet products and optical instruments, among others.

Phase three –October 31-November 4 is dedicated to textiles and garments, food, medicines, health products and devices.

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