I am Chinese and work on sourcing for importer.
There are three way for a foreigner to import from China .
1 Someone purchase from trading companies. Tell them what you need ,they will find the local manufacturers who can supply it and then purchase form them and export to you. But the price is very high; the trading company will add more than30% of the total value of the goods, as their profit. This is the worst way.
2 Purchasing from the manufacturers which has the export license. It's a better way, but only some of large manufacturers have export license, and can export by themselves. is it a good idea?Not exactly, you don't need to worry about the quality of their products, at the mean time, the price is very high, Why? They can be searched in the internet easily and the have enough customers .They receive many inquiries from Alibaba ( www.alibaba.com
)everyday. They don't need to do business in a low profit. Of course, some small manufacturers have export license can accept a low profit, but they can be hardly searched in the internet. Any this way is better than the first way, also, Canton Fair is a good way to purchase from manufacturers directly but the price is really high.
3 Cooperate with the export company. Purchase from the local manufacturers or local market by yourself or your representative then export the goods by the export company, of course pay them service charge (1.5%of the total value). Many foreigner like this way, some of them hire a broker to do the purchasing work in China. When they have enough business, they set up an office. Paying export service charge is totally different from being earn a high profit by the trading company. That help to cut the cost down in a large percentage