US has failed to spread benefits of globalisation, Jack Ma tells Davos

Chinese e-commerce billionaire, who met Donald Trump this month, tells forum that the gains from global trade should have been more widely shared in US society, as president-elect prepares to take office

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 12:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 11:19pm

The United States has gained tremendously from globalisation, but has squandered the benefits by not spreading the rewards throughout society, Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma said on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He also urged the world to give Donald Trump time before passing judgment on how he might shape the future course of Sino-US trade relations.

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Ma’s comments at the forum in Switzerland come after Trump threatened on the presidential campaign trail to slap punitive tariffs on Chinese exports to the US after accusing Beijing of adopting unfair trade practices and manipulating its currency.

Trump’s election victory and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union have also sparked an international debate over whether there is a political backlash against free trade and the benefits of globalisation.

“American international companies made millions and millions of dollars from globalisation,” Ma, the founder of Alibaba, the world’s largest online retailer, told the forum in Davos. “The past 30 years, companies like IBM, Cisco and Microsoft made tonnes of money.”

Alibaba is the owner of the South China Morning Post.

The problem, he added, lay in how the US has spent the wealth.

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“In the past 30 years, America has had 13 wars at a cost of US$14.2 trillion,” he said.

“What if they had spent part of that money on building up their infrastructure, helping white-collar and blue-collar workers? You’re supposed to spend money on your own people.

“It’s not that other countries steal American jobs,” said Ma, echoing criticisms made by Trump of China’s economic and trade policies. “It is your strategy – that you did not distribute the money in a proper way.”

Ma met with Trump in New York earlier this month and said he told the incoming US president he was still optimistic about globalisation, even though there were areas that should be improved.

He told also Trump that both the US and China could benefit from a more inclusive form of globalisation where the gains were more widely shared.

“I believe globalisation is good, but it needs to be improved. It should be inclusive globalisation.”

Ma added the world should give Trump more time to sort out how the US will deal with China in its trade relations.

“He’s open minded and he’s listening,” Ma told the forum.

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The Chinese internet tycoon said the consequences of a trade war between the world’s biggest and second-largest economies would be too grave for both countries to bear and they should do everything to avoid it.

“It’s so easy to launch a war. It’s so difficult, almost impossible sometimes, to terminate that war,” he said. “The Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, are those finished?”

Ma gave an indirect reply when asked who initiated his meeting with Trump in New York.

He said there were “some people” who asked if he wanted to meet Trump and he initially declined because he did not know what to discuss with the president-elect.

But after others asked him a few days later, he replied in an email that he was ready for the meeting and believed Trump would be happy to meet him, too.

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“At least I think president-elect Donald Trump would be happy to hear what I want to talk about so I went,” he said.

Ma said the meeting with Trump had gone better than he expected.

“We spoke about how we can help small American businesses sell their products in China and Asia through our network, which can create a lot of jobs for them,” he added.