UNHCR seeks to purchase more from Chinese suppliers
Lin Nan, Li Jian

The United Nations is seeking to purchase more quality relief items from Chinese suppliers, including some "innovative" products and services, an official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Tuesday at a workshop in Shanghai.

The UNHCR purchases one billion U.S. dollars of goods every year to aid and protect refugees across the world. But Chinese suppliers only account for three percent of the total relief items purchased.

"We believe that there are very high quality products that come out of China. We believe that there is competitive pricing, so by having this kind of workshop, we're trying to ensure that there's better mutual understanding," Sivanka Dhanapala, representative of UNHCR in China, told CGTN.

As the workshop took place a few days ahead of the third China International Import Export Expo in Shanghai with various products entered and displayed at the city's big fair, Dhanapala said he would like to see the agency buying more from China as the country has become a central player in the global supply chain.

"There's a great convergence of a large number of suppliers here in Shanghai, also suppliers to the broader UN family. We are fifth among all UN agencies that procure goods from China. We would like to see that increase," said Dhanapala.

The procurement scope of UNHCR is comprehensive, from emergency supplies and basic equipment to services. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the organization has purchased a large volume of personal protective equipment from Chinese companies.

However, apart from the main relief items, the agency says it will look into buying more innovative goods and services from Chinese suppliers, like solar energy.

The agency and Chinese companies both hope to have a more direct conversation in the future and fill the gap through workshops like this one.

"We hope there will be more workshops organized by the UN agencies for Chinese suppliers in future. We welcome them to visit our factories, and we also want to visit their offices to have face-to-face communication to explore more cooperative opportunities," said Li Zongping, executive deputy general manager of Peak International Trade (Tianjin) Co.

"The procurement projects of UNHCR are emergency relief and humanitarian assistance. We hope to participate in UNHCR's supply system to recommend high-quality and cost-effective products to the UN so that more good Chinese products can be exported to the international market, benefiting users all over the world," said Angela Hu, general manager of international business in the Medical Department of Xiamen ITG.

Business insiders say that or Chinese companies, UN procurement is akin to niche market and is different from traditional international business, so understanding its rules and procedures is the key to better getting involved.