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A huge market for natural stone

China: from threat to opportunity

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Buildings for 300 million people will be built in the next 10 years as the well-off middle class in the country grows

Without doubt, China has become central for the international stone market, with more than 30% of world production. The dimensions of a country that is a continent in its own right, in terms of area and population, together with geographical and cultural distances, however, give rise to a series of prejudices and analysis based more on third and fourth hand information than fair appraisal. China is often viewed - and not only in the stone sector - as a threat requiring defensive measures. The truth, on the contrary, is that this country may well offer huge opportunities provided that one understands certain dynamics. In the construction sector and, consequently, in the natural stone field and marble in particular, demand for finished and semi-finished products will grow exponentially over the next few years. The boom will especially focus on the Chinese domestic market and is the outcome of Chinese government social policies defined for coming years. To halt the mass shift of population towards existing and already over-crowded metropolitan areas, and avoid depopulating country areas (the consequences would be a dramatic fall in agricultural production and the risk of desertification of huge areas of the country), a 10 year plan has been launched that envisages the creation of new cities for 300 million people. That is not a typing mistake: 300 million people. Unthinkable numbers for us but figures that translate into millions of homes to be built from scratch. Such demand for materials in such a short time is also a challenge for the country's own production system. There is certainly space for foreign companies, and obviously not only from Italy, provided that we look at China as a huge market that can be served. Year after year, inasmuch, the income of an ever-growing band of the population is getting closer to that of industrialised countries, with the inevitable outcome that consumption is shifting towards more prestigious and more expensive products and materials. Strong economic growth in recent years has seen the emergence in the country of the largest “middle class” in the world, given the one billion 400 million inhabitants of the country, and even the number of billionaires bears no comparison elsewhere. In short, if we continue to view China as the country of rock-bottom prices and counterfeits, we are looking in the rear view mirror and risk driving off the road. There are also clear signals in the stone sector: Chinese companies themselves are looking with interest at Italian machine tools because they need our quality to produce well-made goods. China is by now the world centre for the stone industry, as Italian producers already active on this market confirm: a dash of spirit of adventure, sure, but especially appropriate technologies and the desire to invest there, if not with production plant at least with representation offices and, in the case of machinery supplies, an effective consulting and technical assistance service.


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Verona, 04/08/2011

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