Editor’s note, 12.6.19: This story was updated to include a new investment figure, an estimate of jobs created and expected launch time for the smart-logistics hub at Liege airport.
Belgium has signed on to become a member of the Electronic World Trade Platform – the first country in Europe to do so.
Alibaba Group on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding with Belgium to bring the eWTP to the country of 11.4 million, with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and Deputy Prime Minister Kris Peeters as well as Alibaba Group Senior Director James Song and President of Global Business Angel Zhao in attendance.
The eWTP seeks to lower barriers to global trade for small and medium-sized businesses via e-commerce. The private sector-led, multi-stakeholder initiative offers SMEs easier access to new markets via simple and straightforward regulations, as well as support in logistics, financing, cloud computing and mobile payments services.
WATCH: What Is the eWTP?
“This will be a huge opportunity to boost exports and bring wide reaching economic benefits to society, including employment opportunities to Liege,” said Prime Minister Michel. “Participation in eWTP underlines our country’s vision to help local small and medium-sized companies to be more competitive in the global marketplace in the digital age.”
Since it was first proposed by Ma in 2016, the eWTP has been recognized by the G20, as well as adopted by China, Malaysia and Rwanda. The goal is to launch a series of e-hubs across the globe so that all businesses – not just multinational companies – can participate in cross-border commerce.
That mission could have a significant impact in Europe, said Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang, where 98% of companies are small businesses. Moreover, the partnership is a chance for Alibaba to make good on its promise to serve as a “Gateway to China” for international companies while importing $200 billion worth of quality goods to China over the next five years.
“We strongly believe that under the eWTP platform, we will open up the huge potential opportunities for European SMEs to reap the benefits of global cross-border trade, especially into the China market where the demand for European goods is high,” Zhang said.
A key part of the agreement between Alibaba and Belgium is the building of logistics infrastructure to support cross-border trade for SMEs. To that end, Alibaba-owned Cainiao Smart Logistics Network signed a deal with Belgium’s Liege Airport to build a 220,000-square-meter smart-logistics hub at the airport. With an investment of 100 million euros, the hub is expected to be fully operational by the first half of 2021 and create 900 jobs.
“The arrival of Cainiao reinforces the competitiveness of our airport,” said Liege Airport CEO Luc Partoune. “Several Chinese companies are already here. Other companies will be attracted by the presence of Cainiao and the opportunity for e-commerce growth between Europe and China.”
In addition to the logistics hub, Alibaba and the Belgium government will work to digitize and, therefore, streamline customs procedures to allow for a more-efficient clearance of goods, which would further support SMEs.
Alibaba will also collaborate with the Belgian trade and investment agencies for the regions of Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia on promotions, marketing and direct imports of Belgian products to increase their sales on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms.
Finally, Alibaba and the Belgian government will partner to promote the country as an attractive destination for Chinese tourists.
Prime Minister Michel first expressed interest in joining the eWTP during a meeting with Jack Ma in July. Deputy Prime Minister Peeters reiterated that intention to Zhang while attending the China International Import Expo in Shanghai in early November. The two parties have been working since that first meeting to reach an agreement.