Asian Ceramics

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Though China has been famous for producing high-end porcelain for centuries, Chinese ceramics manufacturers are now at the crossroads of change.

Companies in Tangshan in Hebei province, one of China's ceramics production centers, have already made inroads in the highly competitive European and US bone china markets through e-commerce platforms and increasing investments to upgrade their production technologies and designs.

"We will no longer focus on original equipment manufacturer business models to make meager profits from foreign companies such as Starbucks Corp, IKEA Group and Hilton Group," said Shen Yu, general manager of Tangshan Shengshi Ceramics Co.

The company's sales grew 24 percent year-on-year to $4.65 million in 2015, boosted by shipments to European markets, after its management decided in 2013 to focus on high-end bone china products with more traditional Chinese painting.

Since then Tangshan Shengshi Ceramics has not only made several high-end products, but also decided to venture into independent design.

"I am not saying that we are not interested in the domestic market, but there are still some rosy areas in developed markets that are worth tapping," Shen said.

Shen said to take advantage of them, companies needed to come up with new growth strategies and ensure they have done all their research into their markets.

Ceramics manufacturers in Tangshan shipped $110 million worth of porcelain to overseas markets in 2015, including $75 million of bone china tableware. The city took the lead in production volumes of bone china last year from China's other ceramic producing areas.

Eager to compete with their rivals in Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan, Chinese ceramics makers are adopting new measures including building e-commerce platforms, creating new brands and promoting high-end custom-made products to expand their exports, said Chen Jiangfeng, vice-president of the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Light Industrial Products and Arts-Crafts.

China's ceramics exports hit $7 billion in 2015, about four times higher than in 2005, data from the Ministry of Commerce showed.

"Guangdong and Fujian provinces accounted for more than 40 percent of the country's ceramics exports," said Chen.

Statistics from the Ministry of Commerce showed that 71.26 percent of the $1.38 billion worth of ceramic tableware exported to the United States in 2015 was from China, while 71.42 percent of the $1.15 billion worth of the same products imported to member states of the European Union came from the Chinese mainland.

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