TORONTO — E-commerce giant Alibaba is increasing its drive to enlist Canadian businesses to sell into China’s US$5 trillion retail market.

The Chinese online marketplace and its billionaire founder Jack Ma will host a ‘Gateway Canada’ business summit in Toronto on Sept. 25, aiming to encourage small-to medium sized businesses in areas such as consumer products, seafood, agriculture and tourism to offer their wares to Alibaba’s more than half a billion Chinese customers.

The move follows the Amazon rival’s launch of a Canadian “pavilion” on its T-mall e-commerce platform during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s G20 visit to China last September, and a growing demand in China for products such as Canadian lobster and cherries.

“The demand for foreign products is growing every year because of the quality of the products, the price of the products and the safety of the products,” Alibaba president said Michael Evans said in an interview Wednesday.

Alibaba’s mission, he said, is to connect small businesses from all over the world to each other and to new sources of consumption, “and the biggest new source of consumption is in China.”

Currently, more than 30 Canadian businesses sell their goods to the Chinese through Alibaba, including vitamin maker Jamieson, juice and snack company Sun-Rype Products, Clearwater Seafoods, and fashion retailers such as Roots, Aldo and Lululemon.

The online giant garnered attention in Canada in 2014 when it sold 100,000 Canadian lobsters on “Singles Day,” a Chinese counterpart to Valentine’s Day which has grown to become the biggest online shopping day in the world.

News of the summit comes as a Chinese consumer boom continues to fuel one of the world’s fastest growing economies. E-commerce, which currently accounts for about 15 per cent of China’s retail market, is expected to grow to 30 per cent by 2020. In March, Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said China would import US$8 trillion worth of goods in the next five years.

“There is also a real demand for outbound travel experiences,” said Evans. More than 600,000 Chinese tourists visited Canada in 2016, a 24 per cent increase from 2015, according to the government agency Destination Canada.

 

Billionaire Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

Jim Brandle, CEO of the Ontario-based non-profit food science research facility Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, which works to develop and market produce, said Alibaba’s platform offers a compelling opportunity for Canadian food distributors, particularly given an uncertain trade climate with the U.S.

“Trade is going to be challenging over the next little while, particularly as we renegotiate NAFTA,” Brandle said. “I think this could make a huge difference for people who are on the fence about selling to China because of the time and effort it would take,” he said, even as farmers have an interest in selling produce such as Niagara peaches to China.

“When you are dealing with Alibaba you don’t have to worry about setting up business relationships in China or running afoul of their trade laws — you would just set up on their site and hope you get some orders.”

Separately, Alibaba sells goods such as electronics, cosmetics and clothing to Canadian through its AliExpress.com website, though the Gateway Canada event in September is not related to that arm of the business.

Rivals Amazon, Walmart and eBay all operate rival marketplace-style businesses to facilitate sales between third-party sellers and consumers, though the former two also sell goods directly to consumers through their own warehouses.

Alibaba held a similar event in June in Detroit to court American businesses to the platform.

“We have a strong relationship with the 500-plus million consumers that are on our platform, and we have an enormous amount of data in terms of knowing what they want to buy and having a relationship with that consumer, which is much more difficult for a non-Chinese company,” Evans said.

Financial Post

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