Yiwu drives Zhejiang's rebound
Jordanian entrepreneur Mohammad Falah Nasser discusses business plans with employees in Yiwu, Zhejiang province. PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY
Jordanian businessman witnesses 'world's supermarket' picking up pace
In 2002, shortly after graduation, a young businessman from Jordan arrived in Yiwu, the city in Zhejiang province referred to as the "world's supermarket". He had 30,000 yuan (about $3,600 at the time) in his pocket and plans to start his own business. Stunned by the vast market and its dazzling array of products, he immediately recognized the substantial business opportunity Yiwu presented, found a humble office and got to work.
Twenty years later, Mohammad Falah Nasser is chairman of Yiwu-based Zhejiang Infinity Trade, a manufacturing company that mainly trades in hardware, power tools and energy-saving lamps. Last year, cumulative exports to 13 countries, including Jordan, Algeria, Tanzania and Morocco, stood in excess of $130 million. Despite the impact of COVID-19, Zhejiang Infinity Trade has continued to grow.
In part, this has been made possible by the proactive role Yiwu authorities have played. After shipping 80 containers to Algeria last year, the company discovered that the employee normally responsible for arranging the bills of lading was under quarantine. Until another worker could be arranged, the shipment could not be collected and the company risked incurring demurrage fees of $8,000 a day.
With the employee unable to leave home to complete the necessary bank procedures, Nasser turned to the Yiwu City Bureau of Commerce for help. The bureau promptly worked out a plan to issue a special pass that would allow the employee to arrange the bills, while still obeying pandemic control requirements. The problem was resolved.
As the situation improved and business and production in Yiwu bounced back quickly, local government officials visited Nasser to ask about the difficulties he had experienced and advised him on preparations necessary to resume production.
With their support, his factory was able to tackle a number of problems, including a shortage of supplies, and quickly resumed production while still meeting pandemic prevention requirements. Foreign trade rebounded thanks to incentive policies related to logistics and trade, and last year, Zhejiang Infinity Trade's export volume grew by 60 percent, bucking the global trend.
For Nasser, Yiwu is a magical place where he went from "poor boy" to "big boss".
"I have been to more than 70 countries around the world, including the United States and many European countries, and I think Yiwu is the ideal place to do business," he said.
Zhejiang continues its process of opening up to the world, a key component of the province's Double-Eight Strategy.
The strategy identifies eight strengths the province possesses in terms of economic structure, geological position, industries, the coordinated development of urban and rural areas, ecology, mountain and ocean resources, the environment and culture, as well as eight measures to maximize the advantages of these strengths.
As the world's largest small commodities market, Yiwu is the epitome of Zhejiang's opening-up and development process. According to statistics from Yiwu Customs, despite the turbulence of last year, the city's imports and exports reached 312.95 billion yuan ($48.5 billion), some 9.3 percent of the provincial total and up 5.4 percent from the previous year.
In part, this is thanks to Yiwu's encouraging business environment. In recent years, authorities have focused on developing one-stop administrative services to improve local businesses. When Nasser started his company in 2004, it took more than two weeks to get the necessary licenses, but when he applied for a wholly foreign-owned enterprise license in 2018, procedures took less than two days.
"Our company has grown from a factory of 200 workers to an enterprise of more than 1,700 employees, and our agents abroad have seen the number of employees increase from six to more than 300. This demonstrates that China's success not only benefits China, but also promotes the development of countries all around the world," said Nasser.
"Doing business in Yiwu makes me feel that we are all in a 'global village'," he continued, adding that the Belt and Road Initiative has strengthened economic ties and business opportunities with many countries and has brought people closer to each other.
As COVID-19 spread across China at the end of January last year, Nasser's company purchased more than 3,600 medical masks in Algeria to help Yiwu authorities. He also donated 80,000 yuan to the Yiwu Red Cross to fight the pandemic.
"As one of the engines of the Chinese economy, Zhejiang enjoys a superior business environment and infrastructure. It's also a key area in the Belt and Road Initiative. This brings globalization to China, which means stronger economic ties, and stronger connections between people," said Nasser.