Australia's underground network of daigous – buying agents who purchase local products to sell to Chinese consumers – are being urged to choose goods with the Australia Made logo to avoid rip-offs and fakes.
It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of active daigou – translated to 'buying on behalf of' - who buy and sell Australian products including baby formula, supplements and skincare.
"The daigou collective are very influential in China, so if they are going to be spruiking genuine Australian products, we want to make sure they’re actually genuine," says Ben Lazarro from Australian Made - the not-for-profit group that promotes the Aussie green-and-gold logo.
It’s a highly lucrative channel for local brands to gain access to middle-class Chinese consumers through such 'agents' who sell goods via Chinese social media.
Australian Made was among dozens of groups wooing the fruitful market at a conference in Melbourne on Thursday.
Mr Lazarro says there are concerns some products are being sold with the Australian flag or contain ownership statements giving the impression that the product is made in Australia, when it is not.
Baby skincare company Bubba Organics has been approached by companies offering to export its products in container loads to China.
“We held back [and went] with our gut instinct to make sure that when we do enter the market we do it under our branding, with our story behind it, by people that actually do know our brand,” co-founder Kerri Chadwick tells SBS World News.
That’s why daigous are important for the firm, to be able sell the brand as a genuinely Australian product, Ms Chadwick says.
“We need to enter the market and have our daigous say it’s a premium product… not full of cheap and nasty [elements].”
From ‘smugglers’ to exporters
Chris Morley, from Retail Global, says daigous have become a legitimate source of exporting Australian brands.
“When we started selling in China in 2013 we really saw them as smugglers and pirates and they were almost the enemy for us,” he tells SBS World News.
“We saw them as potentially bastardising brands and ruining prices.”
Now, he says, they’re more business savvy thanks to business development and price parity.
“A daigou has access to thousands of legitimate buyers we can track and trace and see them enjoying the product in China.”
Mr Morley predicts the market will continue to grow – subject to regulatory issues.
“Vitamins, healthcare supplements, fragrances, cosmetics - they’re all products that can’t get legal entry into China, so as a result the daigou market is always going to be relevant for those categories.
“But the government could come and shut it down.”
Part-time daigou Blair Lin makes around $1000 a month from selling Australian brands through social media. She too warns there could be a clampdown on the practice.
“Two years ago, after signing the [China-Australia Free Trade] agreement that threatened some of the daigou, [they] became not so profitable," Ms Lin says.
“Some daigou [are] still doing it but not large amounts.”