Alibaba’s Jack Ma Visits U.S. to Lure Businesses Into China

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Jack Ma
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Chairman Jack Ma. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Chairman Jack Ma will visit New York and Chicago this week, seeking to pitch China’s middle class as a growth opportunity for American business and his e-commerce company.

Ma is looking for revenue beyond China, where the nation’s economy is projected to grow at its slowest pace since 1990. One strategy is to position Alibaba as a cross-border e-commerce solution, enabling China’s 557 million Internet users to buy things from anywhere in the world.

Alibaba’s chairman is scheduled to arrive Monday in New York City and plans a dinner with leaders of select global brands, the company said. His calendar on Tuesday includes lunch with members of the Economic Club of New York at the Waldorf-Astoria New York.

Ma travels to the American heartland Wednesday at a town-hall style meeting in Chicago with 300 business owners and American Express Chief Executive Officer Ken Chenault, according to Alibaba. He’ll also meet with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who sees exports to China as a source of job growth.

Already, Costco Wholesale Corp. and Macy’s Inc. are among U.S. companies reaching Chinese shoppers through Alibaba. Ma has set a goal of raising the company’s revenue from outside China to 50 percent from the current 4 percent. Cross-border sales into China and sales through Alibaba platforms to consumers outside China would constitute international revenue.

Shares of Alibaba fell 2.7 percent to $88.29 in New York on Monday, extending this year’s decline to 15 percent.

Rival Websites

Ma’s push coincides with new policies that make it cheaper for Chinese residents to import overseas goods and successful trial programs on Alibaba’s TMall.com selling cherries and apples from Washington state, seafood from Alaska and ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s and Breyers.

Alibaba is competing with Amazon.com Inc. and Tencent Holdings Ltd.-backed JD.com Inc. to introduce more Western brands.

“Considering the number of people on TMall each day, their promotions give us a level of publicity we could never afford to pay for,” said Alexa Tonkovich, international program director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “We see online commerce in China as having excellent potential for Alaskan seafood.”

Cross-border purchases by China’s Web shoppers grew from less than $2 billion in 2010 to more than $20 billion in 2014, with the U.S. the destination of choice for clothing and personal care and baby products, according to EMarketer. It predicts China’s e-commerce market, which supplanted the U.S. as the biggest in 2013, will be twice the size in five years.

Selling to China

“We want to help as many U.S. entrepreneurs, small businesses, and companies of all sizes sell their goods to a growing Chinese consumer class,” said Jennifer Kuperman, Alibaba’s vice president of international corporate affairs. “Alibaba’s international ambition is to help Chinese consumers get the American products they want, and in turn, create jobs and increase exports to China from the United States.”

Alibaba last month appointed new CEO Daniel Zhang, who told company employees that global expansion is a top priority. That effort includes building a new international government affairs division in Washington, led by Eric Pelletier, former General Electric Co. executive and White House staff member for President George W. Bush.