SAN FRANCISCO — When Jack Ma, executive chairman of Chinese mega-company Alibaba, met with President Trump in January, he made a promise – the online sales platform would give 1 million U.S. small businesses entrée to the Chinese market.
On Tuesday, Ma will announce he’s launching a program to make good on that promise. Alibaba plans a conference in Detroit on June 20 and 21 to teach U.S. businesses how to sell to the company’s 443 million customers in China.
The two largest small business markets in the world are the United States and China, and “connecting them seems like a good idea – good for the United States and good for China,” Alibaba President Michael Evans told USA TODAY.
While Americans are familiar with the idea that most of their consumer goods come from China, China does import some consumer goods from the United States. Alibaba sees an opportunity to greatly increase those.
Currently, the site has 7,000 U.S. businesses, mostly large companies and big-name brands. Over the next five years, Alibaba hopes to increase that to more than 1 million, with the vast majority made up of small businesses. When Ma met with then president-elect Trump, he said the plan would create 1 million U.S. jobs.
As a first step towards that, the company hopes to invite as many as 2,000 U.S. small business owners, entrepreneurs, and farmers to Detroit, focusing on products it believes Chinese consumers want.
The aim is three-fold. First, Alibaba needs to educate attendees about the business opportunity that China represents.
Next it plans to tell them how the nuts and bolts work of selling to China is done, everything from finding a partner company in China to the logistics of shipping, to dealing with foreign exchange.
Finally it will play matchmaker, introducing Americans to small Chinese businesses that maintain digital storefronts on Alibaba’s Tmall site.
“We’re going to be very involved in the end-to-end process, establishing the connection and the facilitating it,” said Evans.