The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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India Inc in fever cold sweat

Calcutta, April 3: Canton Fair in Guangzhou in China’s Guangdong province, scheduled between April 15 and 20, every year draws around 5,000 Indian participants. But there will hardly be any representation from India at one of the world’s biggest commodity fairs next fortnight.

An eight-member Indian Steel Alliance Mission, led by J. R. Irani, was to leave for Beijing on April 15 to hold meetings with leading business houses in China. But the Confederation of Indian Industry has cancelled the trip.

Alarmed by the fever travel alert issued by the World Health Organisation on Wednesday, India Inc has pressed the panic button and is busy scrapping trips to Hong Kong, Singapore and south China.

This, despite April and May being the critical months for trade travel to that part of the continent, with four major fairs and exhibitions scheduled — Canton Fair, International Toys and Gifts Fair in Guangdong (identified as the viral epicentre), and Houseware Fair, Gift & Premium Fair in Hong Kong.

“A large contingent from India takes part in these fairs. I drew up my itinerary well in advance to visit China and Hong Kong. But I had to cancel my trip in view of the pneumonia virus scare,” said Pritimoy Chakraborty of city-based Zenith Finesse.

According to him, skipping the fairs will badly hit his company — the largest importer of gift items from China for corporate India in the East -- and he will have to wait till October for the next round of fairs.

“I came back from Guangdong in February and was ready to travel next week. But Konsie Lau, my associate in China, has said it’s wiser not to come,” Chakraborty said.

The World Economic Forum’s annual summit, scheduled for April 14-15 in China, has also been “postponed” but not rescheduled, further affecting business plans of Indian firms and chambers with China ties.

Debasish Roy Choudhury of Monarch Enterprises, registered in China and Calcutta, has also called off his trip to the land of dragons. He fears the WHO advisory will affect Sino-India trade, especially import of electrical fittings, sports goods, optical glasses, bicycle parts, bearings, heavy machinery and garments.

The CII, one of India’s apex industry associations, may have cancelled this month’s Beijing trip, but its plan of opening an office in China by June is still on.

“Given the medical advancements, I hope the spread of the virus will be arrested shortly. I just can’t think what will happen otherwise,” says Piyush Behl, in charge of the CII’s international division.

The lethal, flu-like illness called severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has already killed over 80 people and infected over 2,000 worldwide, prompting the WHO to urge travellers to avoid Hong Kong and China’s Guangdong province.

“We are all wearing masks and our movements are restricted. As the fairs won’t attract Indian representatives, business will be hit badly,” Kamlesh Gangwani of RNP International Ltd, a leading trading house in Hong Kong, told The Telegraph, on phone.

Gangwani, who has been in Hong Kong for the past 10 years, is planning to send his family home to India. “It’s really scary out here. But me and my brother can’t leave suddenly because of business considerations.”

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