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“Canton Fair Story” Chen Lifa: the Canton Fair Helps Traditional Chinese Medicine to Go Global

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Mr. Chen Lifa is the President of the Singapore Chinese Medicines and Health Products Merchant Association (SCMHPMA). Since the mid-1980s, he has attended almost every session of the Canton Fair, which for him is both a cultural heritage of the association and an opportunity to expand the market. More importantly, the Canton Fair’s superior functions as a platform can help Traditional Chinese Medicine to go global at a faster pace.

An Important Platform for Exchanging Industry Information

Established in 1981, SCMHPMA’s members include businesses specializing in proprietary Chinese medicines, medicinal herbs, health products, tea, medical devices and medical dressings. Mr. Lin Zaiqin, the honorary chairman of the association, is a “senior buyer of the Canton Fair” who has been sourcing products at the Canton Fair since 1957. According to Chen Lifa, Lin Zaiqin has met many experts and businessmen in the Chinese medicine industry at the Canton Fair, which lays a solid foundation for the sound development of SCMHPMA.
China is the birthplace of Traditional Chinese Medicine and TCM culture. The Canton Fair is a gathering place for domestic and foreign businessmen, and therefore an extremely important platform for finding business opportunities. Sourcing Chinese medicine products at the Canton Fair was the first motivation of SCMHPMA. However, in Chen Lifa’s view, it is increasingly important to obtain the latest information of Chinese medicine from the Canton Fair and to exchange information about the industry.
 “Every time I attend the Canton Fair, I would hold a forum on TCM, which would attract experts and businessmen from home and abroad. We discuss new technologies and new products of TCM, explore the market trend, and sort out the path of TCM globalization. It’s always a big harvest.” The forum is equivalent to an international industry conference, which is usually difficult to hold. However, the Canton Fair makes it possible. It is because everyone knows that practice is the only criterion to test a theory. “The Canton Fair gathers companies and goods of different industries. By walking around at the exhibition hall, we can roughly judge whether the results of discussion at the forum are correct or not,” said Chen Lifa.

A Bridge That Promotes TCM to Go Global

Chen Lifa revealed that through the Canton Fair, SCMHPMA has established business partnerships with many time-honored brands of TCM in the past decades, including Beijing Tong Ren Tang and Guangzhou Chenliji. The process of the products of time-honored brands entering the Singapore market is also a process of exploring the internationalization of TCM.
Due to different perceptions of TCM, to protect the health and safety of their nationals, different countries have different regulations on access of TCM. As far as Singapore is concerned, some medicines were once restricted, such as berberine and rhizoma corydalis. A kind of activating pill produced by an enterprise in Beijing was rejected by Singapore because of the berberine contained in its formula. However, the pill has a large market in Singapore. Therefore, getting the access for the pill to the Singapore market became an urgent problem for SCMHPMA and its partners.
 “It is one of the principles in international trade to follow the legal provisions of a country. How should we gain access without breaking the principle?” Considering that the medicinal properties of some herbs are the same and therefore substitution won’t affect the effect of the medicine, SCMHPMA proposed to let the enterprise in Beijing substitute berberine with another herb. In the end, this pill successfully entered the Singapore market with a “modified formula” and was very popular.
 “That happened in the era of planned economy. Such a problem was quite difficult to solve.” Chen Lifa recalled that many people were rigid, believing that a traditional formula could not be modified. Fortunately, Mr. Ding, the General Manager of the enterprise in Beijing, was farsighted and bold and resolute in action. After experts proved the method is feasible through experiments and practice, the formula was finally modified.
Similar situations are common when promoting products in the international market, which focus on packaging, drug name, efficacy description, etc. With the joint efforts of all parties concerned, the problems have been solved, and practical ways for TCM to go global have been found.
 “China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Medicines and Health Products (CCCMHPIE) has offered us great support. It often sends experts to Singapore to give lectures on TCM. It popularizes knowledge on TCM among Singaporeans, scientifically analyzes and tests TCM products, and even changes the local government’s perception of TCM,” said Chen Lifa. Later, relevant departments of the Singapore government began to conduct medical evaluations on more TCM, and gradually lifted restrictions on some medicines, including berberine and hizoma corydalis. “Of course we have made lot of efforts to make it possible, but all of these couldn’t have done without support from the Chinese side. Besides, the platform provided by the Canton Fair also plays an indispensable role.”

A Continuation That Cannot Be Abandoned

At present, economic and trade exchanges and cooperation between China and Singapore is undergoing great progress. The construction of China-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City is a case in point. Chen believes that with the continuous advancement of the “Belt and Road”, there will be enhanced cooperation between China and Singapore, and SCMHPMA will have more space for development. Therefore, the Canton Fair and SCMHPMA are destined to continue their friendship and cooperation. It is because the two parties have a common goal, namely expanding the road to the international market and better promoting TCM at a faster pace to benefit mankind.

Source: Canton Fair Press Center

Reporter: Feng Meikang