China’s ceramics hub rises above trade woes

FUZHOU, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) — From regular COVID-19 updates to client visits, Zheng Pengfei’s social media posts offer a glimpse into how his ceramics business has fared through much of the past year.

Many orders were canceled in March and April due to the epidemic, casting a shadow on the business of Shunmei Group, a leading ceramics exporter in Dehua County of east China’s Fujian Province, said Zheng, the group’s general manager.

To counter the impact, Zheng and his team doubled their efforts to maintain close contact with foreign clients through email and WeChat, and to make sure every shipment was delivered as scheduled.

As the epidemic eased in China, Shunmei’s exports began to recover in May. “Orders have continued to come in over recent months,” said Zheng. “Christmas-related products have sold particularly well.”

Thanks to robust exports of ceramic home accessories and seasonal gifts, which account for around 80 percent of Shunmei’s business, the company’s exports this year are expected to outperform those of last year despite the impact of the epidemic.

Dehua, a ceramics manufacturing powerhouse in China, exports over 60 percent of its ceramic products to over 190 countries and regions worldwide. It was dubbed the “World Ceramics Capital” by the World Crafts Council in 2015.

From 1985 to 2019, the number of ceramics-making companies in Dehua ballooned from a few dozen to over 3,000. Roughly a third of the county’s population works in the industry.

In 2020, Dehua has risen above the trade woes caused by COVID-19, with exports hitting 2.49 billion yuan (about 380 million U.S. dollars) in the first 10 months, up 7.8 percent year on year. It is estimated that Dehua’s ceramics industry will be worth 40 billion yuan by the end of this year.

Amid the pandemic, many entrepreneurs in Dehua are exploring new market opportunities. Wen Keren, a pioneer who has been helping Dehua build its export-oriented ceramics industry since the 1980s, is among such entrepreneurs.

As global demand for disposable latex gloves took off amid the pandemic, Wen’s company quickly switched to producing ceramic glove formers, a product that he found had huge market potential.

Some large glove manufacturers have as many as 100 production lines, with each needing about 30,000 glove formers, Wen estimated.

The glove formers are made of a high-performance material that is tougher and more durable than regular ceramic. It remains a budding industry in China as until recently, the country relied on imports of the product, said Wen.

“We’re working around the clock to complete orders,” said Wen, adding that orders from home and abroad had piled up until June. The first shipment is expected to be exported before the Spring Festival in February.

“Dehua boasts time-honored techniques and craftsmanship, as well as hard-working people,” he said.

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