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Interview Jack Ma, Founder and CEO of Alibaba

Jack Ma, Founder and CEO of Alibaba, elucidates in this interview on the Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP), his work as chairman of the B20 China SME Taskforce and the importance of including Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the digital economy in general and digital trade in particular.

The electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) is your brain child. Not only has B20 China strongly supported the eWTP, the G20 also took notice onthe initiative. What is the eWTP all about? What are the next steps?

Some people blame today’s economic and social problems on globalization. However, I believe these problems are not caused by globalization itself, but rather from its imperfections.

Globalization has continued on a forward path over the last several thousand years. The Silk Road, built two thousand years ago, was the first significant example of globalization. The World Trade Organization (WTO) established a trading regime that enable global commerce and trade for the energy era in the century. Today, I believe we need to establish an ecosystem to support the data-intensive era that we are entering.

Hundreds of years ago, world trade was monopolized by and benefited only a few emperors and aristocrats. Over the past three decades, world trade was dominated by 60,000 major enterprises and benefited the top 20%, that is, developed countries and big enterprises.

Going forward, I believe global commerce and trade should be designed to benefit the remaining 80%, that is, developing countries as well as micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This will help make world trade freer, fairer and more inclusive.

The WTO has brought tremendous contributions to global growth over the past 20 years. However, the WTO has only involved participation from government and state actors. Now is the time for enterprises to participate; to make trade simpler and more inclusive.

The Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) is a new global platform that will establish a mechanism of international cooperation focused on the future, new technology, SMEs and young people.

Today, trade is being used for political means and as a tool for economic warfare, including through sanctions. Trade should involve enterprises, governments and NGOs. A set of new rules and regulations should be established, balancing the interests of all parties involved in order to bring trade back to its original meaning.

The eWTP, driven by business and enterprises, is a supplement to the WTO. It can enable any business or any individual to take part in world trade. It will promote globalization, tear down trade barriers and make cross-border trade easier by using dialogue instead of confrontation and new instead of old technologies.

I believe, trade is the best method of communication and cultural exchange. It helps us respect and understand different cultures.

You were the chair of the SME Development Taskforce under B20 China. How can digital trade help SMEs and how can the eWTP support them in this regard?

It took the famous Italian explorer, Marco Polo, eight years to travel between China and Italy. Now, relying on the Internet and e-commerce, we can accomplish the same in eight seconds.

In the future, the Internet will be as indispensable as electricity was in the twentieth century. The Internet, like electricity, has no borders. 

While all countries support its SMEs, it seems that not a single country truly knows how.

The eWTP will create an international trade environment with more freedom, innovation and inclusiveness for SMEs, consumers, young people, and less developed countries and regions.

All countries can participate on this platform as long as they have SMEs, young people and Internet access.

In the future, everyone can engage in cross-border business with just a mobile phone and Internet access. For example, farmers may sell their potatoes globally and roof owners can sell solar generated power abroad.

Regarding SMEs, what can the G20 do to enable their integration in the digital economy?

While the eWTP was initiated by Alibaba and included in the G20 Leaders’ Communiqué during the Hangzhou Summit, its implementation should not only rely on Alibaba or Chinese enterprises. It’s an open platform that requires all parties to participate, create, build and share together.

It’s crucial to have all the young people, SMEs and businessmen across the world to get involved in the platform, which needs to be supported and understood by all states and governments.

In the next three decades, governments should tailor special policies for enterprises with less than 30 employees and for young people under 30 years old.

If governments are really committed to helping young people and SMEs, an online special trade zone should be built for SMEs to encourage them to sell products online globally.

Cross-border e-commerce can be facilitated by establishing electronic free trade zones, which are not bonded areas in the traditional sense. They are integrated hubs of payments, logistics, customs, supervision and inspection, and data for the new economy era. By linking these free trade zones, we will build an e-road and each of these zones will become an e-hub of the e-road. These e-hubs can provide SMEs with the infrastructure for global trade and enable SMEs and young people in different countries to trade without barriers.

Traditional forms of trade is better suited to benefit large enterprises since they are more adept at taking advantage of free trade zones. However, electronic world trade zones will better suit SMEs by helping to remove the many complex rules and regulations that limit SMEs.



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