Salesmanship becomes new skill for ambassadors

Date: 17 Jan 2022

The business of foreign diplomats in China is increasingly about business, as many try their hand at livestreaming, feature in television programs and even deliver exports to customers in person in a bid to promote their products in the world's second largest economy.

For Palitha Kohona, the ambassador of Sri Lanka to China, the attractiveness of the Chinese market has proved so irresistible that he has tried various ways to bring his country's exports closer to Chinese consumers, despite the language barrier and being a newcomer to salesmanship.

He made his livestreaming debut at the Chinese International Import Expo in November, when he joined a Chinese influencer to promote Sri Lankan tea, biscuits, wine and other products at the nation's booth.

In front of the camera, he introduced viewers to the benefits of the tea he drinks on a daily basis, as well as the coconut oil products he uses. His efforts paid off massively as the goods were snapped up within minutes.

"I was surprised to hear that after I joined, the number of viewers jumped to 1.53 million, and she (the influencer) got rid of her stock within 30 minutes," Kohona said.

The ambassador, who was inspired by the immediate influence on consumers from livestreaming, went on to attend several online events to promote Sri Lankan products in recent months.

Kohona was just one of many foreign envoys to China who have sought to bolster the popularity of their nation's exports in China's e-commerce sector.

Their enthusiasm has partly been fueled by the nation's pledge to further scale up its imports, especially from developing nations.

President Xi Jinping announced at the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, a meeting he attended via video link in November, that China's imports from African nations will total $300 billion over the next three years.

In a meeting with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, he unveiled a plan to buy up to $150 billion worth of agricultural products from ASEAN members in the next five years.

Kohana said, "The Chinese market is one of the most lucrative consumer market in the world. It's important to almost every exporting country."

Last year, Sri Lanka exported tea products worth $57 million to China, and he expected this figure to rise to $100 million in the near future.

The Sri Lankan envoy's enthusiasm for livestreaming and market development is shared by James Kimonyo, the Rwandan ambassador to China, who first joined a livestreaming session selling coffee-the east African nation's top consumer export-a year ago.

Kimonyo recently took part in an e-commerce event in which he personally delivered a package of coffee from Rwanda to a Chinese consumer.

"The Chinese market is a huge market that has seen tremendous growth in terms of the middle-income group, which has a huge purchasing power," he said, adding that the supportive policies from the Chinese government to bolster imports have enabled foreign exporters to better take advantage of the market.

Kimonyo explained that he became interested in livestreaming after realizing that "it is becoming a very powerful tool not only in marketing products but also in directly interacting with consumers.

"So livestreaming platforms have really become an effective tool for us to increase our sales in China and to create awareness among the consumers to know Rwandan coffee and tea," he said.

He added that all the livestreaming events have brought about phenomenal sales, and demand has even overwhelmed supply.

Opportunity sharing

With China's efforts to expand its imports and boost the growth of cross-border e-commerce, the nation is also sharing opportunities from its growth and helping other developing nations tackle their own problems, especially poverty, said Cui Fan, an international trade and economics professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

The efforts by foreign envoys in China to pitch their nation's produce via livestreaming will spur China to expand its imports of quality products from other nations and strengthen China's trade links, he said.

Kimonyo emphasized that the events went far beyond his participation as an ambassador in a livestreaming video, saying that these occasions are even more important for the coffee and tea farmers in his homeland.

"We have seen an increase in terms of prices. With prices going up, because of the competition and people beginning to pay attention, the farmers benefit as a result," he said.

He said he will continue to engage with similar livestreaming events, and the coffee farmers and associations in Rwanda will also endeavor to deliver the best quality coffee to Chinese consumers.

Kohana, the Sri Lankan ambassador, also highlighted the significance of China expanding its imports from the South Asian nation in terms of helping the country eliminate poverty.

"Sri Lanka, just like China, would like to eliminate poverty and bring its people up to a high level of prosperity. And to do that, we need to get our agricultural and fishery products into a consumer market like China," he said.

Mbelwa Kairuki, the Tanzanian ambassador to China, who recently appeared in a television program to promote produce from his country, said he is looking to cooperate with more Chinese media and e-commerce platforms to increase the exposure of the nation's products in China.

The nation, which has opened a flagship store on the e-commerce platforms JD and Womai, will seek to use more such online venues to promote and sell Tanzanian produce, he said.

Mo Jingxi contributed to this story.

Source: China Daily

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