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Special> China International Fair For Investment & Trade> Beijing Review Exclusive> Trade
UPDATED: August 3, 2009 NO. 31 AUGUST 6, 2009
Crossing the River
Frontier trade with Russia gives the Chinese border town of Heihe a taste of prosperity

"The demand meltdown was not the only reason for trade woes," Shi Liwen, general manager of the trading company, told Beijing Review.

"Another headache concerns access to finance," he said. "The shortfall of financing that lubricates a large amount of border trade is rubbing salt into our wounds."

"We are now one of the few fruit traders here that are still struggling for life as most of the smaller ones have ceased businesses," Shi said. "But if things do not take a swift turn for the better, we may soon sink into red ink as well."

Life will be better

Though Heihe may still face an uphill battle, signs are surfacing that the foundation of a recovery is building up, at least in the free-trade markets.

"The situation here appears to be turning around," said Yang Qingwei, a toy shop owner at the Heihe Island International Trade Center. "Nowadays my sales revenue can reach around 500 yuan ($73) per day, nearing that of the best times one year ago."

"The Russians are coming roaring back," she said, sorting through dolls in her booth while waiting for walk-in buyers.

Yang's business trajectory is multiplied by hundreds of traders in the market. In 1992, she quit her job as a primary school teacher in her hometown of Hailun, a poverty-stricken county in central Heilongjiang, and moved to Heihe together with her husband, a freelance poet and novelist.

Through more than 10 years of toiling, the couple climbed from street peddling to owning a toy shop of around 30 square meters. Last year, they opened a new plastic flower shop in the trade center and had been planning for further expansion until the financial crisis struck.

"We could hardly make ends meet around December last year, but finally we have pulled it through," she added. "The biggest wish of everyone here is that the rail bridge crossing the river could be built as soon as possible, so more Russians will come shopping."

History of Border Trade of Heihe

1983-1990: China opened the port of Heihe in 1983 only to resume a suspension on border trade with Russia in September 1987. The trade value in the eight years totaled $140 million.

1991-1993: The border trade of Heihe moved into a phase of fast development with the trade value in the three years amounting to $910 million.

1994-1997: The growing border trade saw a sharp correction as authorities launched a crackdown on illegal trading behaviors and shoddy goods. The trade value in the four years reached $400 million.

1998-2003: The border trade recovered slowly and the trade value in the six years skyrocketed $1 billion.

2004-2008: The trade value grew at a staggering rate of 78 percent annually from $289 million in 2004 to $2.9 billion in 2008.


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