NEW YORK: Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma met US President-elect Donald Trump on Monday. Ma 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 spokesperson said.
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd expects the initiative to create one million US jobs as each company adds a position, spokesperson Bob Christie said in a phone call.
Alibaba has previously campaigned to bring more small US businesses onto the company's sites, however this is the first time the company's chairman has discussed specific targets.
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Trump and Ma emerged from their meeting at the 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 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 been aggressively wooing foreign brands to set up Tmall stores to sell to China's growing middle class by offering to smoothen out Chinese sales, payment and shipping processes.
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Ma is often seen with leaders from the highest echelons of the Communist Party, and both sides have voiced their support and admiration for each other.
Trump, however, often targeted China in his election campaign. He accused Beijing for US job losses and had vowed 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 strong ties with the Chinese government. Both sides have been working together on some of the country's core technology development goals, including cloud infrastructure and big data.
"It's important [for Ma], given the anti-China rhetoric that has been coming out, to innoculate the company and himself from that." said Duncan Clark, chairman of the investment advisory firm BDA China and author of a book on Alibaba, of Ma's meeting with Trump.
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"There's nothing to lose in talking about what they're trying to do here which is stimulate demand in China," he added.
About 7,000 US brands including wholesaler Costco Wholesale Corp 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.
However 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. The newspaper quoted a Coach spokeswoman as saying that they wanted to consolidate resources.
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"It'll require a big effort," Clark said of Ma's prediction that the platform could help create one million US jobs. "There's no one who could prove or disprove how likely that's going to be," he added.
Alibaba did not mention whether Trump and Ma spoke about an ongoing US Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into Alibaba's accounting practices. Trump's top choice for the incoming head of the commission, Wall Street lawyer Jay Clayton, worked on Alibaba's initial public offering.
The US Trade Representative last month returned the Chinese e-commerce giant to an infamous list of blacklisted online retailers over concerns that the company was not doing enough to stop counterfeiting on their sites.
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