KUALA LUMPUR -- Alibaba Group launched its first online trading platform outside China on Friday, targeting small and medium enterprises as the e-commerce company seeks new markets in Southeast Asia.
The group's Electronic World Trade Platform, which it refers to as eWTP, offers Malaysian small and medium sized companies infrastructure for electronic fulfillment, including marketing, logistics, cloud computing and mobile payments. It can also be used for talent development.
The business-to-business platform is a key initiative by the Malaysian government, which wants to diversify its economy through e-commerce and pump fresh air into the neglected SME sector.
"The eWTP will redefine regional trade," said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who shared the stage with Jack Ma, Alibaba's co-founder and chairman at Friday's launch. Najib said Malaysia's Digital Free Trade Zone, which includes the eWTP, will nearly double the country's annual air cargo volume to 1.3 million tons within 10 years.
The launch of the eWTP in Malaysia underlines Ma's ambitious plan to recreate Alibaba's successful online wholesale trade in countries outside China.
"Today we are witnessing a historic moment in Asia, where one country has begun to use technology to enable its SMEs and young people to become more competitive on the world stage," said Ma. "This is an opportunity for not just the small businesses and young people in Malaysia but across Asia."
Beside the virtual business space, Malaysia's DFTZ will include a 206 million ringgit ($48 million) logistics center to be developed by Malaysia Airports Holdings and Cainiao Smart Logistics Network, a wholly-owned unit of Alibaba's logistics arm. The 30:70 joint venture will undertake the construction of a logistics hub that will include cargo terminals, a sorting center and warehouses on a 24,000-sq.-meters plot of land in Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
When completed in 2020 the facility will cut customs clearance times by half, to three hours, and speed up cargo terminal operations to 90 minutes from the current four hours. Malaysia says the DFTZ will create 60,000 jobs and handle $65 billion worth of goods by 2025, making it a regional transshipment hub.
In the Philippines, Alibaba recently partnered with Ayala Corp. to revamp mobile payments using technology developed by its Ant Financial Services Group. Alibaba's expansion into Southeast Asia also includes $1.1 billion funding for Tokopedia, an Indonesian e-commerce operator.
Researcher Ying Xian Wong contributed to this article.