Alibaba will 'bring partners' to Malaysia

Online retail giant Alibaba Group's tie-up with the Malaysian government to set up a free trade zone is aimed at luring small business owners who want to enter the global market, its founder Jack Ma said yesterday. "It's not Alibaba business in Malaysia... This hub belongs to Malaysia and (is) operated by Malaysians," he told reporters, referring to the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) launched by Prime Minister Najib Razak on Wednesday.

He declined to discuss how much investment his company would put into the country, saying his interest is to "empower" small business owners by providing Alibaba's infrastructure and expertise so they can grow.

"The money investment, how large it is, it's more last-century concept," he said, adding that "connecting Malaysia with China is a huge investment... We not only talk about money but (also) we bring partners".

The decision by the world's largest retailer to partner Malaysia to set up an e-commerce hub is touted by officials as a coup that will grow the economy and create 60,000 jobs by 2025. Alibaba's foray into physical and virtual hubs in Malaysia came about four months after Mr Ma signed on to be the country's digital economy adviser, after being invited by Datuk Seri Najib.

Both parties said on Wednesday that warehousing facilities, offices and services involving cashless payments would serve as the base infrastructure to help businesses expand e-commerce in South-east Asia.

"A lot of free trade zones in the world are designed for big companies," said Mr Ma. "This e-hub is specifically designed for small businesses to do exporting."

The DFTZ will be located beside Kuala Lumpur International Airport, on the site of the previous low-cost carrier terminal. It will have its own Customs clearance to speed up imports and exports and an online cross-border trading services platform linking Malaysia directly to China's Hangzhou e-commerce free trade area.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2017, with the headline 'Alibaba will 'bring partners' to Malaysia'. Print Edition | Subscribe