Alibaba Group Chairman Jack Maventured far from his Hangzhou, China, headquarters recently to be keynote speaker at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation SME Summit in Lima, Peru. Yet Ma, who started e-commerce giant Alibaba.com in 1999 with little more than an idea and the support of like-minded friends, must have felt right at home among more than 1,000 Peruvian small business owners and public officials at the summit.
Invited to the event by Peru’s President Alan Garcia, Ma called on governments to nurture smalland medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)by forging more free-trade agreements—and on that score, Peru’s policymakers are way ahead of him. Since 2006, Peru has signed market-opening deals with the U.S., Canada, Singapore and China; concluded negotiations with the European Union; and begun trade talks with Korea and Japan. Indeed, while the small Andean nation is normally associated with llamas and Macchu Picchu, its abundant mineral resources make it an increasingly important trading partner for commodity hungry nations like China. Peru’s 9.8 percent growth rate last year was among the world’s fastest. Since 2003, the country’s per capita income has doubled and the poverty rate has plunged from 50 percent to 35 percent.
Peruvian small businesses, important drivers of job creation, should take advantage of the free trade agreement with China, which went into effect in March, Ma said. “Make full use of the opportunity to export goods and services to places like China,” Ma said. “Use the Internet to know the other side of the world.Doing this will help make you business leaders in the world.” Ma noted that China, now the world’s second-largest economy (Peru is 45th), is on track to surpass the U.S. as the largest buyer nation in the next 10 years.
His advice for enterprises struggling to meet the challenges of exporting to the world? “A key to small business success is to never give up,” Ma said. Alibaba survived its early days despite the fact that “we had no money, we knew nothing about technology and we never planned.Now that the company has a large cash accumulation, we still spend every dollar wisely.We still focus on making our technology very easy for everyone to use.And we understand that continuously changing to meet the needs of an evolving marketplace is the best plan.”