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Alibaba touts ties to Canada on Harper's China trade trip

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma take part in a question and answer session in Hangzhou, China.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

‎Stephen Harper shared a stage with Chinese e-commerce billionaire Jack Ma on Friday during Day 1 of his trade trip to China, where the founder of online sensation Alibaba Group boasted he wants to sell 200,000 Canadian lobsters on his website in a single day.

The Canadian Prime Minister held up Alibaba, which has 120 million shoppers a day on its site, as the type of company that Canadian firms can use to reach China's growing middle class.

‎Mr. Harper announced that Canada will open four new trade promotion offices in fast-growing regions of China including a location in the prosperous eastern city of Hangzhou that he visited Friday. This will bring the total number of Canadian trade offices in the Asian country to 15.

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‎Alibaba became one of the most valuable tech companies in the world in September with a public offering of stock that raised $25-billion (U.S.)

‎Mr. Ma, who started the company 15 years ago out of his apartment in Hangzhou, now employs 30,000 to serve customers, many of whom are from China's upwardly-mobile population.

He said he wants to help small- and medium-sized Canadian businesses, including farmers and seafood producers, sell products through Alibaba, which is China's answer Amazon.com‎.

"We want to help the small guys sell to China because the big guys, they don't need us."

Mr. Harper called China a "pretty important" market for Canadian goods, saying half a million jobs back home depend on trade with this Asian market of more than one billion people.

In a revealing aside, the Prime Minister offered more insight into the maneuvering behind a trade trip to China that was only announced at the last minute, noting it was the Chinese government "who really wanted me to be here" at a summit of Asian-Pacific economies.

‎Mr. Ma said last year Canadian producers sold 20,000 lobsters through his website.

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Each Nov. 11, Alibaba's operations have a ‎heavily promoted day of sales specials. Last year the company sold $5.8-billion of goods on that day.

Mr. Ma said ‎his staff are telling him this Nov. 11 they want to sell 200,000 Canadian lobster "on that day alone" to customers.

"‎I don't know whether you have that many lobsters," he said, smiling.

The Alibaba founder said he's looking to invest in Canada.

Mark Rowswell, a Canadian comedian and entertainer who's built his career in China under the alias Dashan, introduced Mr. Ma onstage and revealed Canada's connection to Alibaba.

He said in the late 1990s when Mr. Ma decided to name his enterprise Alibaba he wanted to secure the Internet domain name Alibaba.com. He found it was a Canadian who held the rights to this domain and had to arrange to acquire it.

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"While you can say the company was born here in Hangzhou, actually Alibaba.com comes from Vancouver," Mr. R said.

Other trade offices announced by Mr. Harper will be located in the Chinese cities of Xi'an, Xiamen and Tianjin.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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