Belgium has signed up to be part of Alibaba Group's Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP), becoming the first European Union market to support the Chinese e-commerce operator's pitch to establish digital free-trade hubs. Plans include a shipping hub and efforts to facilitate the direct import of Belgian products.
The objective of these global trade zones is to provide "simple and straightforward" regulations and lower barriers of entry for small- and mid-size businesses (SMBs) via e-commerce, said Alibaba. They also aim to offer these companies easier access to other services such as cloud computing, financing, logistics, and mobile payments.
Under the agreement, Alibaba's logistics arm Cainiao will work with Belgian authorities to beef up the local infrastructure to support cross-border trade. It signed a deal to build a shipping hub spanning 220,000 square metres at the Liege Airport. Involving an initial investment of €75 million (U$85.06 million), the first phase of the project is slated to begin operations in early-2021.
With a population of 11.4 million, Belgium follows Malaysia and Rwanda -- outside of Alibaba's domestic market -- in creating an eWTP zone, which also counts the World Trade Organisation and World Economic Forum as its partners.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said, "this will be a huge opportunity to boost exports and bring wide-reaching economic benefits to society, including employment opportunities to Liege. Participation in eWTP underlines our country's vision to help local SMBs to be more competitive in the global marketplace in the digital age."
Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said the company's eWTP vision could have a significant impact in Europe where 98 percent of the region's business community were small companies. Establishing trade zones also would help set up a "gateway" to China, paving the way for global businesses to access the Chinese market, Zhang said.
He pointed to Alibaba's aim to help facilitate US$200 billion worth of imported 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," he said.
Liege Airport CEO Luc Partoune added that Cainiao's new shipping hub would boost the airport's competitiveness and boost e-commerce growth between the region and China.
The Belgian government and Alibaba will also collaborate on efforts to digitise and streamline customs procedures, making the clearance of goods more efficient for SMBs, according to the Chinese company.
It also would work with the Belgian trade and investment agencies in the regions of Flanders, Brussels, and Wallonia to roll out promotions and marketing, as well as facilitate direct imports of Belgian products, with the aim to increase their sales on Alibaba's online marketplaces.
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