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Wed, Dec 22, 2004 - Page 12 News List

China feeling merry over Christmas

STRONG PRESENCE Factories in Guangdong are doing well churning out the West's holiday products, with goods like Christmas trees making up the bulk of sales

AFP , SHENZHEN, CHINA

William Cheng, chairman of Shenzhen SG Handicraft Co Ltd, poses at a factory producing Christmas trees and Christmas novelties on the outskirts of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone last week. According to customs figures, China exported US$1.6 billion in Christmas products last year, of which more than half went to the US -- including seven artificial trees erected in the White House.

PHOTO: AFP

Father Christmas's grotto is not an icy cave in Lapland but the economic heart of southern China, where almost two-thirds of the world's Christmas trees and decorations are made.

In factories staffed by predominantly Buddhist workers who have scarcely any idea of the meaning of Christmas, the baubles, Santas, lights and tinsel that mark the West's biggest festival are churned out at a relentless pace.

"No one would dispute it if you said China is the biggest manufacturer of Christmas products. Even its customs department has figures just for exports of these goods," said Paul French, publishing and marketing director of Access Asia, a market research company with a special focus on China.

According to Customs figures, China exported US$1.6 billion worth of Christmas products last year, of which more than half went to the US, including seven artificial trees erected in the White House.

China's export of Christmas-related goods in the first nine months of this year amounted to US$850 million.

More than half of that -- US$510 million worth -- came from Guangdong Province.

In the US alone, unless your family purchased a natural tree, you would have had a 70 percent chance of celebrating your Christmas with an artificial tree manu-factured in Guangdong's Shenzhen City.

Shenzhen SG Handicraft Co is one of more than 300 enterprises that produces Christmas items.

Chairman William Cheng said 80 percent of the company's sales came from Christmas trees. His company makes 400,000 artificial trees a year that are exported to major supermarkets and department stores in the US and the UK.

"We are full of factories of this kind in Shenzhen," said Cheng from his factory, now in a lull after the pre-Christmas rush.

"There is so much competition out there. A lot of our customers want high quality, new products. To attract more foreign investors, we make more fibre-optic trees, trees with flashing stars, candles and so on. Our novelty trees are also quite popular."

Cheng's factory, an hour from Shenzhen City, is clean and brightly lit if a little unkempt.

At long workbenches, a few late-season workers tool the last of this year's orders.

Cheng said production usually started in February each year, after the Lunar New Year, with goods ready for delivery in October.

During the height of the production period, Cheng would have 600 workers producing different types of Christmas ornaments.

Starting his own business only three years ago, Cheng said one of the most difficult things about making Christmas decorations in a non-Christian country is to understand Western culture and meet its requirements.

"They have different perceptions of colors. They like white trees, which is supposed to be a funeral color here and doesn't seem appropriate in this happy season," he said.

Cheng's turnover this year has doubled to US$6 million, but he says rising prices for plastic, the raw material of Christmas, along with increasing salaries, are cutting into profits.

"I should start thinking about developing products for other Western festivals, like the Valentine's Day or Halloween," he said.

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