Dubai promotes Chinese products

Dubai, January 30:

Dragon Mart, a gigantic Chinese shopping mall inaugurated last month in Dubai — the Middle East’s version of Hong Kong — aspires to became the gateway for Chinese products into the regional market.

The shopping centre, shaped as a dragon, stretches 1.2 km and has a surface area of 150,000 square metres, making it the largest Chinese commercial centre outside China. In the long corridors of the specialised sections of ‘Dragon Mart’, shops offer a wide selection of ‘Made in China’ products, ranging from sewing needles to farm machinery machinery.

Some 1,200 Chinese vendors and employees work in the mall. After work, they retire to the Chinese quarter of the International City, built in the desert of the flourishing Gulf emirate. Female assistants push trolleys down the aisles, offering to accompany shoppers in return for a small tip.

The project was launched in 2002 by the Chinese firm Chinamex Middle East Investment (ChinamexMart) and Dubai’s Jebel Ali Free Zone authority. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) imported an equivalent of $2.1 billion in 2002 from China, representing only 9.3 per cent of its total imports. Presented as a ‘strategic cooperation’ between the Chinese and Emirati governments, Dragon Mart hopes to help increase Chinese exports, not only to the Middle East, but also to Africa, Eastern Europe and Central and south Asia.

“We have chosen Dubai for its geographic position, as well as its economic and political stability, infrastructure, and transperancy of its laws,” the vice-president of ChinamexMart, Jian Cheng, said.

“The ‘Made in China’ products are in great demand. Our goal is to set up a centre for Chinese trade in the Middle East to respond to this increasing demand,” he said. But contrary to the wishes of his founders, the centre remains “a place for retail instead of wholesale,” he admitted, “We should give people a new impression of Chinese products. In the past, people thought that ‘Made in China’ is a cheap product but not good quality. This idea is changing and we should help in changing it.”

So far, the Dragon Mart is not making a profit, said Cheng, while insisting that the focus should remain on the initial aim of increasing wholesales and accelerating publicity in the region. But some traders in the centre voiced disappointment.

“Business is not excellent and I am not very happy,” said 32-year-old Yu Wang, who represents a textile copmpany. “I had expected profits to be ten-fold more than now, but I hope that business will improve, and I have the patience,” he added, a year after his arrival in Dubai.

The austere decorations of lime-bleached walls and white-tiled floor, combined with the modest shops, represent a striking contrast to the exuberant luxury displayed in malls.