US President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma after their meeting at Trump Tower in New York, US. -Reuters
Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma met US President-elect Donald Trump on Monday and laid out the Chinese e-commerce giant's new plan to bring one million small US businesses onto its platform to sell to Chinese consumers over the next five years, an Alibaba spokesman said. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd expects the initiative to create one million US jobs as each company adds a position, company spokesman Bob Christie said in a phone call. Alibaba has previously campaigned to bring more small US businesses onto the company's sites, but this is the first time Ma has discussed specific targets.
Trump and Ma emerged from their meeting at Trump Tower in New York together. The president-elect told reporters they had a "great meeting" and would do great things together. Ma called Trump "smart" and "open-minded." Ma said the two mainly discussed supporting small businesses, especially in the Midwest, such as farmers and small clothing makers, who could tap the Chinese market directly through Alibaba, whose Tmall online shopping platform offers virtual store fronts and payment portals to merchants.
The company has in recent years been aggressively courting foreign brands to set up Tmall stores to sell to China's vast and growing middle class by offering to smoothen out Chinese sales, payment and shipping processes.
Ma, a Chinese citizen, appears frequently with leaders from the highest echelons of the Communist Party, and both sides have voiced their support and admiration for each other. Trump often targeted China in the election campaign, blaming Beijing for U.S. job losses and vowing to impose 45 percent tariffs on Chinese imports. He also promised to call China a currency manipulator on his first day in office.
Alibaba has deep ties with the Chinese government, working closely on some of the country's core technology development goals including cloud infrastructure and big data. "It's important, given the anti-China rhetoric that has been coming out, to innoculate the company and himself from that." said Duncan Clark, chairman of investment advisory firm BDA China and author of a book on Alibaba, of Ma's meeting with Trump.
"There's nothing to lose in talking about what they're trying to do here which is stimulate demand in China," said Clark. About 7,000 U.S. brands including wholesaler Costco Wholesale Corp (COST.O) and apparel seller Levi's currently sit on Alibaba's Tmall, an Alibaba spokeswoman said. They made $15 billion in sales to Chinese consumers last year, she added.
But some foreign retailers have had mixed success on Tmall. In September, the Wall Street Journal reported that luxury handbag maker Coach closed its flagship store on Tmall. It quoted a Coach spokeswoman as saying that they wanted to consolidate resources. "It'll require a big effort," Clark said of Ma's prediction that the platform could help create one million U.S. jobs. - Reuters, New York
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