GERMANS WOO CHINA WITH BIG TRADE SHOW

GERMANS WOO CHINA WITH BIG TRADE SHOW

Armed with ''gummy bear'' candies, high-tech toilet flushers and the new Volkswagen ''Beetle,'' German traders are trying to take China by storm.

The Teutonic assault on the world's biggest potential market was spearheaded last week by a massive German consumer-goods show - staged with the help of $5 million from the German government - that aimed to boost Chinese awareness of products made by 160 different German firms.That ''Konsugerma'' consumer-goods show, which ended its run in Shanghai earlier this week, is one of several German efforts to intensify its exports to the Far East - especially China - at a time when the Asian economic downturn threatens to worsen Asian trade surpluses with Germany.

Last year, Sino-German trade amounted to $18 billion, with Germany solidifying its position as China's biggest European trading partner - and ranking just behind Britain as Europe's main investor in China.

Even so, Germany got the short end of that trade, exporting about half as much to China as the Chinese shipped to Germany last year. From 1995 through 1997, German exports to China remained flat - at about $6 billion a year - while Chinese exports to Germany soared by 34 percent, to $12 billion last year.

The pattern is similar to that of U.S.-China trade; since 1985, Chinese exports to the United State have grown by an average of 25 percent annually, while U.S. exports to China increased by an average of about 10 percent a year.

''On average, the typical Chinese consumer spends only about 25 pfennigs (14 cents) a year on German consumer goods,'' complained Arend Oetker, a German businessman who helped organize the consumer-goods show in Shanghai.

That trade imbalance - and the fear that the Asian economic turmoil will further erode German exports - accounts for the major German effort to sell more goods to China.

Hans-Olaf Henkel, president of the major German industry association, the Bundesverbandes der Deutschen Industrie (BDI), argues that Germany ''sends too much of its exports to Europe,'' and should focus more effort on China and other Asian nations - despite the economic downturn.

''China is pursuing the goal of emerging from this crisis as the strongest power in Asia,'' said Mr. Henkel, adding that he is impressed by the Chinese government's ''steadfastness'' in liberalizing and expanding its economy.

Last week, German Economics Minister Guenter Rexrodt and other officials demonstrated Germany's commitment to business with China by laying the cornerstone of a new German Industry and Trade Center in Shanghai.

Even though German consumer goods may have the greatest potential for long-term growth in the Chinese market, German industrial concerns have had more short-term success in expanding their operations in China.

Bayer AG, the German chemical and pharmaceutical giant, has 15 projects in China - including a new joint-venture factory being built in Nanjing that will soon start producing plastic products. Last year, Bayer's sales in China increased by 15 percent, to about $555 million.

Meanwhile, the German chemical firm BASF AG is investing nearly $3 billion to build a petrochemical complex in China. German steelmaker Krupp-Thyssen AG is investing $750 million to build a steelworks there, and the Deutsche Babcock energy firm is building a $90 million power plant in Shandong.

While Germans worry about the impact of the Asian turbulence on such major products, as well as on Chinese imports of German-made consumer goods, some of them also see the potential to change buying patterns in the Chinese market.

''This is a long-range effort,'' said Mr. Rexrodt, who noted that Germany has to compete with relatively inexpensive goods that other Asian countries are selling in China.

''Much of the Chinese imports are special categories of goods that we cannot easily displace over the short term,'' he said.

Under the banner ''Germany and Asia in the 21st Century,'' Mr. Rexrodt and other top German trade and business officials helped stage the seventh annual Asian-Pacific Conference last week in Beijing - which attracted more than 700 representatives from Germany, China and other Asian nations.

German business leaders said they are looking at the big picture - beyond the current Asian turmoil - into a brighter future for German-Asian trade. ''More than 100 million Chinese are potential customers for German-made consumer goods,'' Mr. Rexrodt noted.