Thursday, June 11, 2009

In defense of cheap and poor-quality Chinese products in Papua New Guinea


Letters from Port Moresby (Year 4)



CHEAP and poor quality consumer products have been with most of Papua New Guineans ever since they learned how to eat cheap rice and cheap canned meat and fish.

Over the years, low-priced imports from China started flooding in after consumer products from Malaysia, Singapore and other Asian countries found their way into local stores and spawned sustained demands from the locals.

These were also among the very first imports of this country even before it gained independence from Australia on September 16, 1975. And notably, the inflows of these products have grown as population ballooned to its present mass of more than 5 million.

This simply shows that in PNG, there’s market for everything imported, whether or not they are of good quality. In a country with almost 90 percent of consumers wallowing in poverty, the people’s first consideration would always be the product’s affordability.

Whether or not it is of good quality is one luxury that could only come up later. The most important thing at the moment is that there’s something the family could use.

First-time users of imported foodstuff like rice (especially those who have just been weaned from eating taro, sweet potato, yam, banana and the like), canned foods and clothing, and other consumables like toothpastes, detergents, perfumes, hair-and-body care items, and lately electronic goods, simply have no idea whether the products they bought were of good quality. This is because they have no experience yet with the better counterparts.

And those with fewer kina in their pockets tend to go for the only item their money could buy, and this is obviously the one being sold cheap, which, in most cases, could also be of poor make.

When I was a young boy in the 50s, I remember receiving a toy gun from may father as Christmas present. I did not want to play with it because it was made in Japan, which according to my playmates in the neighborhood, would easily break down.

I wanted one “Made in USA”, because by buddies carried US-made toy guns, which they claimed were durable, thus the better ones.

In short, during those days, the Philippines was flooded with poorly-made products, notably from Japan and Hong Kong, aside from the ones made locally, and were fiercely competing in the market against American imports.

Those days, Japan and Hong Kong were notorious for their lemon exports. But gosh! Look at them now and how their goods have captured markets worldwide.

But as the Philippine economy expanded and people’s incomes improved consumers with increased buying power started chasing better quality products, mostly US goods. For them, Philippine-made consumer items were “no good” and non-US brands were likewise.

One major reason was that the Philippines during those days did not have yet the technology to churn out outstanding products as it was just beginning to rise from the rubbles of World War 2 that ended towards the middle of 1945.

So this was understandable. Now, immediately after the Philippines gained independence from America in July 4, 1946, having been a colony for 50 years, and trade between the two countries began, came a tsunami of US-made products – from my favorite chocolate treats M&M and Hershey and candies, to quality ready-to-wear clothing items and footwear, household appliances, perfumes and scents, electronic goods and many more.

This was also the reason why the Filipinos were accused of having “colonial mentality” because they normally preferred US brands to those produced locally. This is true even up to these days despite the top-quality Philippine products available across the country.

Secondly, America has now become second home to the growing number of Filipino migrants, who would occasionally send home door-to-door boxes with favorite American goodies.

Right now, the number of Filipinos living across America is at four million, or about 1.5% of US population. Their number made the flood of “Balikbayan” boxes (returning Filipino gift boxes) to the Philippines a major industry for door-to-door cargo delivery services.

OF LATE, there has been a misplaced outcry against Asian traders   (translation: Chinese merchants) in PNG and the allegedly poor- quality goods that they sell, most of them Chinese goods.

Such reaction to bad consumer products is normal, and it happens all the time everywhere across the globe. This is one progress achieved by consumer movements anywhere – to be able to air complaints against bad products, especially foodstuff, and convince governments to do something about them for consumers’ welfare.

But the people leading this so-called “outcry movement”, if we can call that, are denouncing low-quality imported foodstuffs and various other consumables before a group of people who are simply misinformed, unschooled and have no options or access to better-made, imported consumer products; people who have no clear understanding why such products exist and what good they do, if there’s any, to those who happened to acquire them (poor quality products).

These are the people, who, even if there are top quality foodstuff and other consumer items available at local stores, will never be able to enjoy them simply because they just couldn’t afford the price.

I am referring to the ill-informed grassroots, and there are close to five million of them across PNG, who barely survive their day to day existence for lack of sustainable jobs or source of sustainable livelihood.

These are the people living the hand-to-mouth existence, those who are willing to forego lunch so that whatever food the family has could last for another day or two.

It goes without saying that the instigators fanning the flame of anti-Asian sentiments are, by all means, nuts, plain illiterate, or that they are the usual scheming kinds with an agenda of their own more sinister than what most PNG politicians have right now. And the agenda is to make a fast buck out of people’s ignorance.

Having been a consumer myself for more than 60 years, I came to categorize into three the quality of products which are normally found in the market.

First, there are the cheap but poorly-made products; second, the cheap but good-enough-quality products; and third, the top-quality but expensive, beyond-every-ordinary-people products.

In short, these items have been produced and marketed to give consumers the choice, a glowing virtue of active consumerism. It would be anarchy if traders would impose on consumers a particular product without giving them an option or the right to choose.

All these – whatever they are -- have corresponding market out of the poor, the average, the middle-class and the rich. Simply put, there are no products that could go to waste as there’s one for everybody – the poor, the middle-class and the rich – according to their paying capacity.

With that, consumers have no reason to complain against poor quality Chinese products or Asian products for that matter.

All they have to do is ignore them, leave that Chinese store and walk across the road towards the other store that sells the same product but of high quality. Only they should be ready to fork more kina to be able to have it.

Are they ready to pay the price?

Back in the Philippines, poor-quality but cheap products have become a multi-billion peso industry because the number of consumers patronizing them continues to grow. And they come from the ranks of the very poor, the better-off poor, the middle class and the rich.

That’s why the so-called bargain districts of Divisoria and Binondo in the city of Manila, and Baclaran in the city of Paranaque – all within the bustling 17-city Metropolitan Manila – have remained the biggest trading centers in the country. Here, billion of pesos change hands everyday, from early morning to sundown.

It is here where countless cheap local products and those from all over Asia, led by Chinese goods, are dumped day in day out, because the buying and selling involving thousands of people never slows down.

It is here where you can find everything, from the biggest to the smallest, to the simplest in design to the most outrageous, all at very affordable prices – all you have to do is ask.

AFTER I WROTE in this column early this year about a group of 16 Chinese-owned variety shops at Gordon in Port Moresby, which I called “Little Binondo”, and saying they sell low-priced Chinese-made products, bargain hunters positively reacted by coming here to have a look, after which they bought a piece or two of the items.

And simply by word of mouth, the place became popular among ordinary consumers who were after cheap items and good bargains. Others came from villages in hired PMV trucks. When they left the stores’ compound, they carried various items they would be taking back home in the village.

Finally, they discovered a place where their money could easily match up with products they liked. And they are Chinese.

This simply shows that cheap Asian products – whether Chinese-made, Taiwanese-made, Malaysian-made, Singaporean-made, Japan-made, and what have you – always have a ready market. Ordinary consumers would always gravitate towards them because such items are what they could easily afford.

There’s no need to hold a mass demonstration to expose or denounce cheap imported goods as there’s just no point doing this.

Because at the end of the day, those who supported this mass action would go home, still poor as they are, only to go back to the store the next day to buy the same cheap but poor-quality products that, ironically, are the ones giving them sustenance. They know such products very well, being the ones they could readily afford.

Meanwhile, in the other store, there’s that expensive, high-quality item waiting for them to pick. But alas, there’s no taker.

So, the basic moral of this story is simple: Those who demand quality should be ready to pay for it. Otherwise, they should settle with what they could easily afford.

And don’t expect that these cheap items would go away. Never, because everyday, there would be a new army of consumers who’ll be looking for products that suit their pockets, and these are usually the cheap and poor-quality Chinese-made.

 To see the original website posting, please visit the weblink below:

For any feedback, please email the writer:  or




1 comment:

  1. Geoff9:53 PM

    What a load of CRAP...EVERYTHING that i have bought MADE IN CHINA,no matter what it is,HAS BROKEN OR WORN OUT IN A VERY VERY VERY SHORT TIME,....As far as i am concerned my country,AUSTRALIA,should totally ban the rubbish that comes out from China...Stick the crap up their............and never let them export into here again