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E-commerce shines on PM’s tour

Meng Jing
Updated: Nov 9,2014 5:20 PM     China Daily

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, accompanied by Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma, tours the headquarters of the e-commerce giant in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, on Nov 7.[China Daily]

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper began a four-day trip to China on Nov 7 by meeting e-commerce tycoon Jack Ma, a sign experts say that his country wants to enhance cross-border online trade.

Harper, who is leading a group of Canadian business representatives, met the Alibaba Group executive chairman in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, where the e-commerce giant has its headquarters.

The Canadian leader will also attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting in Beijing.

No details of their discussions on Nov 7 were released, but experts said Harper’s decision to choose Alibaba as the first stop on his Chinese visit speaks for itself.

Jia Xiudong, a senior researcher on international affairs at the China Institute of International Studies, said the schedules for foreign officials’ visits are not chosen at random.

“The choice of the people they meet is tied closely to the economic or political agenda they want to promote. In Harper’s case, it is likely that he wants to boost Canadian exports to China through e-commerce,” Jia said.

He added that with Chinese companies becoming more powerful and keener to extend their international influence, more foreign officials are expected to meet with Chinese entrepreneurs during visits to the country.

Among the rising Chinese entrepreneurs, Ma has grabbed the most attention from overseas governments.

Since December, leading foreign officials, including British Prime Minister David Cameron and officials from Italy’s Ministry of Economic Development, have met Ma or signed memorandums of understanding with Alibaba, making it easier for businesses to open stores online.

Wang Xiaoxing, an e-commerce analyst at Analysys International consultancy in Beijing, said, “Apart from Alibaba’s high-profile IPO in September, its globalization strategy, which has a focus on cross-border e-commerce, is another key reason for Harper to meet Ma.”

Wang said e-commerce marketplaces like Alibaba’s Tmall are quickly becoming the new channels for multinational brands looking for low-cost and low-risk entry to countries where they are not established.

“Chinese e-commerce companies are also looking to boost sales by expanding abroad. They want new markets and new offerings to support sustainable high growth,” he said.

E-commerce players in China, including Alibaba and Amazon China, have made globalization their top strategy to boost sales in the annual Nov 11 online shopping carnival by helping more overseas brands to sell to China.

Analysys International said online purchases in China rose from about 10 billion yuan ($1.63 billion) in 2010 to 80 billion yuan last year.

“With Chinese consumers becoming increasingly picky, the demand for high quality products from other countries is huge,” Wang said.

“But online platforms may not see their sales boosted significantly by imported overseas products in the near future. Buying overseas goods directly online may not be a good bargain because of the tariff imposed by the Chinese government.”