Alibaba’s Jack Ma says Canadian entrepreneurs should consider Chinese vs. US expansion at #Gateway17


At the Enercare Centre in Toronto, 3,600 entrepreneurs and industry leaders gathered for Gateway17, a large-scale event hosted by Alibaba with one mission: to promote global entrepreneurs to consider the Chinese market.

Alibaba, which hosted its last Gateway17 in Detroit in June, used the all-day event to convince Canadian entrepreneurs that the Chinese market should be top of mind for exports. Hosted by Clearbanc co-founder Michele Romanow, Gateway17 saw both Canadian politicians and Alibaba ambassadors cite a massive opportunity. China’s middle-class population is projected to exceed 600 million by 2022; in comparison, the total combined population in Canada and the US is expected to reach 378 million by the same year.

Last year, Chinese consumers spent $6.1 trillion.

“For Canada in the past 50 years, the USA is the market,” said Alibaba founder Jack Ma. “Today, China is the market. Today, China has 300 million people in the middle class — bigger than the total American population. And it’s just the beginning.”

“People say business with the Chinese is very difficult. Let me tell you, doing business with any people is difficult,” Ma continued, saying that Canadians should leverage Canada’s 1.5 million-strong Chinese community. “They are telling other Chinese people about the environment, the products…If you can’t do business with the Chinese, it will be difficult to do business with other nations.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also took to the stage with Ma to explain the opportunity of the Chinese market for Canadians. Alluding to the Canada Pavillion launched on Tmall Global in September 2016 – which allows users to search through a Canada-only product portal — Trudeau encouraged Canadian entrepreneurs to think of their business with more open borders.

“I don’t think China can produce that much high-quality stuff. China is going to be the opportunity.”
– Jack Ma

“We need to do a better job of making case for Canada. People are realizing something really exciting is happening in Canada. When so much of the world is looking inward, closing off, Canada remains open and optimistic of the role we can play in the world,” said Trudeau. “That is extraordinarily powerful. The world will realize we need to be engaged and open, but if they’re taking a little longer, we have an advantage in Canada.”

Leading Canadian product categories in Alibaba marketplaces include fresh food and agriculture, health and nutrition, and everyday goods like fashion, baby foods, and maternity. Ma, citing Canada’s higher industry standards, suggested that the Chinese market is excited about the quality of Canadian products. While the country has been focused on exporting over the last few decades, he predicted that in the next 30 years, there would be a focus on importing.

“I don’t think China can produce that much high-quality stuff. China is going to be the opportunity,” Ma said.

Over 600 Canadian merchants accept Alipay today, including Harry Rosen, Birks, and Holt Renfrew, while over 500 Canadian brands market and sell on Tmall — its B2C-focused marketplace — and Taobao, its C2C-focused marketplace.

“Canada has been so focused as a government on working with partners like Alibaba, working with ecommerce giants to get people to realize opportunities for growth and jobs and entrepreneurs to succeed in the world by getting out there,” said Trudeau.

During a joint conversation with Romanow and Trudeau, Ma said the Canadian government should make it easier for Chinese travellers to get Visas in order to encourage more Chinese consumers to shop Canada.

“We hope that the Canadian government can give us an easy Visa. Using traditional ways, they have to deposit money in the bank, get a certificate — it’s so complicated!” Ma said. “But with an Alipay rating system, it should be easy. If Canada announced an easy Visa for Chinese young people with a rating system based on payments, I think it would be a huge incentive for Chinese tourism.”

As Trudeau was vocal about his support for Canada’s entrepreneurs, a media briefing with the Prime Minister, inevitably, led to a question about his stance on proposed tax changes that many founders say would discourage entrepreneurship and angel investment in the country. Trudeau reiterated a point he’s said many times — that it’s about tax fairness.

“We got into office on a commitment to support the middle class and help those working hard to join it,” said Trudeau, who mentioned the government raised taxes on the wealthiest one percent to lower it for middle-class Canadians.

“Our tax system, which we inherited from the Conservatives, gives advantages to wealthy Canadians that aren’t there for the middle class. We want to make sure that we don’t have a system that encourages wealthy Canadians to use private corporates to lower tax rates than middle-class Canadians.”

He acknowledged that he’s heard the concerns from the tech community, who doubled down on the need to encourage success and risk-taking.

“That’s something we are very much looking at as we ensure that we move forward in a way that creates greater tax fairness and greater opportunities for the middle class,” said Trudeau. “We’ve heard some concerns we agree with, some concerns we don’t agree with. We are looking at ways to ensure that any movement we make on the tax code will indeed make sure people are paying their fair share of taxes and do not stifle investment when it comes to startups.”

Photo via Twitter

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Freelance tech writer. Former BetaKit News Editor.

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