Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chinese fireworks cheaper but inferior

Article from Vancouver Sun
Tim Lai, Vancouver Sun
Published: Wednesday, July 30, 2008

VANCOUVER - The term "Made in China" seems to have been tailor-made for the fireworks business. Up to 80 per cent of the world's fireworks -- like so many other goods -- are manufactured in China, the juggernaut of the global fireworks industry.
So it was no surprise when the dozens of boxes unloaded onto the HSBC Celebration of Light fireworks barge in English Bay for tonight's China production -- Power of the Dream -- all had the familiar "Made in China" sticker plastered on them.

But like so many other goods, China's fireworks don't necessarily rate a gold medal for quality. "Chinese fireworks have improved significantly. There's a lot of good and bad in Chinese fireworks," said Wilson Mao, designer of China's Olympic-themed performance. Others in the industry point to Europe as the standard. "You get more even colour" from European fireworks, said Bill Raynault, president of the Canadian Firework Association. "Let's say you have red, green and blue up in the air," Raynault said.

"For the Chinese one, you'll see the red outshine all the others. The blue will be very washed out. In a Spanish or Italian product, they'll be even brightness throughout; it's very well defined. "All the products from Spain and Italy are predictable," Raynault said. "They're manufactured using more TLC."

Nova Scotia-based Fred Wade, secretary-general of the International Symposium on Fireworks, said: "Chemicals used in Italy and Spain are of higher grade, giving you more intense colourization and less smoke. They are the ones with the colours and intensity, the larger stars and special effects that will produce the 'wow' appeal in the audience."

Quality comes at a premium. Raynault and Wade agreed no one can compete with Chinese prices. The Canadian Fireworks Association says Canadians imported $9.5 million worth of pyrotechnic materials from China, more than half of all money spent on fireworks in 2006. The Americans were a distant second in Canadian sales, with $2.5 million.

In the U.S., the American Pyrotechnics Association says about 80 per cent of fireworks come from China. About 10 per cent are manufactured domestically and the rest come from Europe and Japan. Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, said the days of cheap Chinese fireworks may be on the wane. With safety regulations improving and growing energy costs, she said the price of Chinese fireworks may increase by 35 per cent. But that would still leave them considerably cheaper than the alternatives.

Heckman said 2008 has been a bad year: shortages and transportation delays meant about 15 per cent of fireworks ordered from China for Fourth of July celebrations did not to make it to U.S. shores. The backlog, related to the Beijing Summer Olympics and a series of warehouse explosions in China, came close to delaying the arrival of containers for tonight's performance beyond the time needed to set up the show.

Raynault said producers in Canada may soon look to Mexico as an alternative. But Heckman was skeptical. "The product in Mexico needs to improve substantially. I'm not sure the chemical formulations meet our restrictions in the U.S.," she said.

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