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Jack Ma

China’s Jack Ma plans to sway Trump on trade, globalisation

Alibaba chief uses visit to Detroit to explain his company’s e-commerce platform to US audience

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 June, 2017, 12:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 June, 2017, 12:01am

Alibaba chairman Jack Ma said he planned to convince US President Donald Trump about the benefits of globalisation and cross-border trade – and hoped to provide the proof within three years.

Ma made the bold prediction as he briefed a small group of ­reporters about his trip to Detroit, and touched on his meeting with Trump in January.

When describing the January meeting, Ma said: “Trump very much cares about the small- and medium-sized company exporting. My thinking is that if we prove that we can achieve something by helping American small businesses export to China and helping small businesses sell things to Asia and to other countries, he will change.”

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Ma and Trump met at the president’s New York residence in January. During their 40-minute conversation, they avoided the subject of globalisation, focusing instead on ways to boost exports of products made by small US companies to China, Ma said.

“Today, it’s no good to debate. I have my saying that globalisation is good and increasing globalisation is critical, free trade is fine, and someone says, ‘No, we’ll have to prove it’,” he said. “I think in the next three years, we will prove that small and medium companies doing cross-border trade and increasing globalisation is the solution to our problems. I think he will learn.”

Despite the contrasting views on trade, Ma said the Trump ­administration helped organise the Detroit event – “Gateway 17” – and he planned to write a report and forward it to the White House.

“They’re curious,” he said. “They see the people coming here. The minister of agriculture sent us a letter. So, they’re watching this very carefully.”

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A key message Ma has been trying to deliver to his US audience during his trip for the conference, hosted by Alibaba in Detroit on Tuesday and Wednesday, is how US small- and medium-sized business can benefit from ­e-commerce with China.

In his speech to an audience of 3,000 US small business owners, entrepreneurs and farmers, in which he explained how to use Alibaba’s platform to sell their products, Ma said China had a significant appetite for high-quality “made in the US” products.

“Thirty years ago, America did help China a lot,” Ma said. “The next 30 years, the China market will need a lot of products made in America. They are beautiful products. We Chinese consumers are crazy about that. We need that.”

Ma also condemned the system of global trading rules – including the World Trade Organisation – as a regime that had benefited only the world’s largest companies.

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“Every country knows small companies are the drivers of ­employment, everybody knows small business is good,” he said. “[But] all of the free-trade zones are designed for big companies.

“Big companies can import, export and receive money quickly, but small businesses never got this chance. Farmers never got this chance.”

However, Ma said he hoped trade ties could reduce friction.

“I’m so happy about President Xi Jinping and Donald Trump and the wonderful dialogue they had,” he said, referring to the meeting in Mar-a-Lago, Florida in April.

“I believe that when trade stops war starts. Cross-border ­e-commerce has the capability to alleviate many contradictions throughout the world.”

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Addressing the problem of counterfeiting, Ma said Alibaba’s policy was to prosecute those ­trying to sell knock-offs on e-commerce platforms. The company’s reluctance to settle these cases out of court had led to some 800 judgments against copyright violators, Ma said.

Alibaba wanted 40 per cent of its revenues to come from inter­national markets in the next five years, Ma said.

The company was targeting two billion customers by 2037 from just over half a billion now, Ma said. The company aimed to become the world’s fifth-largest economy by that time, he added.

Alibaba is the owner of the South China Morning Post.