Asia’s richest entrepreneur wants to give the Canadian jobs market a boost. Jack Ma, the founder and chairman of Alibaba, says his platform would give smaller Canadian companies exposure to markets across Asia and help expand their business.  

“If we can help them online, sell their products, offer their services to China, to Asia and to Europe… it would definitely create a lot of jobs,” Ma said in an exclusive interview with BNN on Monday. 

Ma was in Toronto hosting an event called Gateway ’17 to convince Canadian companies to expand their operations in Asia, using the Alibaba platform. He says with the North American Free Trade Agreement facing an uncertain future, Canadian small businesses would benefit greatly by getting online and diversifying their customer base away from the U.S. and selling more to China.

“Canada used to do a lot of business with America… but China is going to be the super-largest market in the next 10 years, why not diversify and get more business to sell to China and Asia through the Internet,“ said Ma. 

He also says by increasing their presence online, Canadian companies would be able to tap a growing affluent middle class that is hungry for international products.

“China today has the world’s largest middle class…and more than 500 million are shopping online, so the demand for online is huge,” he said.

Ma also suggested if Canadian companies begin increasing their presence on Alibaba, his company might increase its presence in Canada.

“We need an office here, we’ve already got people working [on it]… internally we are discussing that,” said Ma.  

Monday’s event was also attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who Ma says urged him repeatedly to bring the event to Canada.

“He really cares a lot about small businesses. Every time we discussed about small businesses, entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs, he’d feel excited. He’d say, ‘Jack, you’ve got to do [an event] in Canada,” said Ma.

This is the first event Alibaba has held in Canada, though similar events have already been held in numerous U.S. cities.

Ma says Canadian companies may be small compared to their U.S. counterparts, but success in the Chinese marketplace comes to those that move fast.

“They are not competing with America, they are competing with whoever takes the action first, who can serve the customer better,” he said. “Among the 1.4 billion consumers in China, I’m sure they will find their customers there.”

The growth of Asian e-commerce will help not only Canadian business to thrive, but will help the 18-year-old Alibaba continue to grow, said Ma.

“Compared to yesterday, we are a huge company, but compared to the future we are a baby,” he said. “This is not because we are smart, but it’s because the market is rising.”