An unprecedented number of foreign exhibitors, seeking agents and a piece of the Ethiopian market, have been in attendance at the 17th annual Addis Abeba Chamber of Commerce & Sectoral Association (AACCSA) Trade Fair.
The week-long event is entertaining a total of 313 companies, 213 of which are foreign, hailing from a diversity of countries, including; Indonesia, China, India, Yemen, Sudan, Djibouti and Egypt. The number of foreign companies being represented has grown by an astounding 73.7pc from last year.
Interest within international companies is growing so much, according to Gashaw Abate, trade investment promotion director at the AACCSA, that companies from India are already in negotiations to exclusively book 'Hall 2' at the Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre. He expects that the deal will be finalised by August, for the 18th fair.
This year the Italians are dominating the event, with 58 participants.
Turkish companies, however, are also paying attention to the fair. This year, 28 companies are present; a far cry from the single coffee grinder manufacturing company that was in attendance just a year ago.
Turkish companies, specialising in pharmaceuticals, furniture, IT, agri-food and construction, to name a few, have the same intent, with regards to securing exhibition areas for themselves, says Gashaw, but formal negotiations are yet to begin.
Tugba Aygul, business development specialist at Silver Shoe Care, a Turkish company, is already busy showing off her products to traders in Merkato, and not just to those coming to the Exhibition Centre. Her company has come to promote 27 different kinds of paints - for shoes, leather jackets and cars - but she is seeking to find only one local agent to act as its sole distributor. Two days into the event, the trade fair is yet to bring her potential agents, still, the interest of business people she met in Merkato has been encouraging.
"The response was amazing," she said when she returned to the Centre on Thursday afternoon. "People liked the products and I am sure I will get an agent in a few days."
Not everyone is as excited, however. Esen Plastic, also from Turkey, has come with pipes and fittings for sewerage and sanitary systems.
"This is the second day, but nobody has contacted us from the local companies," said Mutlu Kasap, export manager of the company.
"A country like Ethiopia that is undertaking infrastructure development, needs our products, which helps with both the construction of roads and buildings," he added.
Mutlu already has clients that import his products into Ethiopia. He now wants to find a permanent agent.
It is not only Mutlu and Tugba that are looking for potential distributors in Ethiopia. Other exhibitors, such as Galaxy Colchem Pvt Ltd, an Indian company that makes jewellery, are looking for agents as well.
"I know there is a visible market for my products in Ethiopia," said Rajiv Gupta, manager of Galaxy. "All of my visitors have asked to buy display products, which are not for sale."
Gupta is not complaining though; he is looking for distributors by advertising in local newspapers and online.
Tugba is also using the fair as an opportunity to network and engage exhibitors from others African countries to promote her paints.
"We want to expand our market to many countries," she says. "This is an international trade fair that allows you to access potential customers from around the world."
"There are about 1,500 people that have come from overseas to attend the exhibition," noted Gashaw. "There are even companies from the same country that did not know each other and this exhibition has brought them together."
Not everyone is concerned with finding agents, however. The Embassy of the Netherlands has brought together 15 companies under one tent, all of which are already in business in Ethiopia. Those companies, which include; Heineken, Africa JUICE, Tibilia SC and Abyssinia Ballooning, are content with simply displaying their products.
Bram Uan Loosbroek, manager of Abyssinia Ballooning, was busy demonstrating the workings of his hot air balloon, which can carry up to 10 people at a time. He started out in the business with a promotional flight for Zemen Bank; he now provides hot air balloon flights in Addis Abeba for 3,500 Br. Loosbroek has plans to expand his business with flight centres in Debre Zeit, Hawassa and Bahir Dar.
"Since starting my company in 2011, more than 30 balloon flights have been made and over 300 local and foreign passengers have enjoyed their trips," says Loosbroek.
Across from the Dutch tent, the Austrian Embassy was using published materials and CDs to promote companies.
"We are looking for new customers around the world, since two-thirds of our country's GDP is from foreign trade," said Kurt Altmann (Dr), Austrian commercial counselor to Ethiopia and neighbouring African countries. "We expect more visitors in the coming days."
The AACCSA is happy with its achievements at the fair. It says it has run 80 radio and five TV advertisements since December, as well as using its bi-weekly radio program on FM96.3, according to Gashaw.
"This year's trade fair is a clear improvement on previous years, both in terms of number of exhibitors and visitors," he said.
Gashaw claims that it is too early to expect a lot of visitors and he predicts that the numbers will grow over the weekend and towards the end of the fair.
AACCSA, which began organising the international trade fair in 1995, is expecting 28,000 people to walk through its doors, up until Wednesday February 27, the last day of the fair.