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COVID-19: ‘Government must distinguish B2B from mass gatherings to foster trade’

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Paul Maerz


Paul Maerz is the CEO of Fairtrade Messe. In this interview with The Guardian, he speaks on the ongoing virtual Agrofood and Plastprintpack Africa exhibition.

Can you tell us what this year’s exhibition is about?
Virtual Agrofood and Plastprintpack Africa is a trade fair like our previous editions. However, because of the restrictions occasioned by Covid-19, this year’s event is virtual, and as a result, covers the African continent. Exhibitors and attendees meet virtually and also discuss in-group chats.

What are the constraints of holding a virtual event?
The restriction is that we cannot hold our trade fairs in the respective countries as usual. However, we are going to be providing a platform where exhibitors and visitors will exchange ideas, make valuable business contacts and do business transactions even though they cannot be physically present. Virtual events come as close as possible to direct meetings. Afterwards, live events will complement virtual ones to increase coverage.

How do visitors access and source for products virtually unlike when they need to go round the exhibition stands to make choices?
In the sign-up process, we ask attendees for their needs. Latest AI matchmaking technology matched attendees’ needs with exhibitors’ solutions. Of course, attendees can also filter and search for products and exhibitors. Exhibitors can upload and describe their products, virtually. They can access the product online. An exhibitor can share a screen with the attendees to show product attributes. You can even demonstrate machines virtually, which is very difficult at a live event due to transportation.

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How has COVID-19 affected your exhibition?
The Covid-19 crisis has brought trade fairs and large parts of trade to a standstill. For exhibitors, this means they do not get new leads for visitors. It means that they cannot compare technology and discuss their ideas.

One cannot travel far by air and if one could; many companies would forbid their employees to travel. Governments should clearly distinguish between mass gatherings where distance is not possible (e.g. concerts, clubs) vs. B2B trade events where attendees are registered and distance is not an issue.

What kinds of products are exhibited at your fairs and who are the exhibitors?
Our trade fairs cover all the value chains. From seeds, filling and packaging machines, raw materials and auxiliaries for plastic and rubber industry, additives.
Food ingredients and all categories of finished products are exhibited. The trade fair is intended exclusively for professional visitors.

What are the necessary measures to avert the interruption by Internet downtime during the virtual events?
All content was pre-produced by a media agency. So, there is no danger of having Internet interruption during presentations. Of course, for attendees and exhibitors, there might be short periods of interruption. But usually, the Internet is back after a short time.

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What value has the fair added to participants over the years and how do you relate such to the national economy?
Nigeria offers all participants an enormous added value, especially in the areas of agrofood and plastprintpack. Exhibitors from all over the world come to Lagos to present their products and solutions from the agrofood and plastprintpack industry, providing a platform to compare solutions. Production in Nigeria is key, as it will reduce imports, bring value creation, create jobs and foster economic growth.

Are there sessions where exhibitors display and explain their products individually to buyers?
Exhibitors could book slots as a speaker at the event to cater to a broad audience. At the same time, they can discuss and present certain topics and solutions through video calls to a selected audience.

How do you bridge the gap between customers, exhibitors and visitors?
We will continue to take our customers by the hand, virtually. We are sure that existing business relationships are maintained and expanded while new valuable business contacts are made Fairtrade stands for valuable business contacts.

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In this article:
Fairtrade MessePaul Maerz
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