Jack Ma hears the message American voters are sending in this election, and he doesn’t like it.
During a discussion on global trade at the United Nations on Tuesday evening, Ma argued that the increased skepticism of globalization in the West is unwarranted. “Many people say that globalization is bad and protectionism is rising,” the billionaire said. “I believe that globalization is good, but it’s not complete. Only rich countries and large companies have benefited.”
See also: Jack Ma’s Grand Ambitions
Ma argued that his company, Alibaba (BABA), is a prime example of how the Internet economy can be leveraged to break the old model of global trade. 100 years ago, Ma said, global trade was controlled by a dozen kings and emperors, and over the last 50 years, it has been dominated by sixty or so large companies. In China, he argued, Alibaba has helped millions of entrepreneurs launch businesses, and he believes he can bring this model to the rest of the globe, helping everyday people thrive with nothing but an internet account and a dedication to new venture.
Ma has proposed the creation of an Electronic World Trade Platform, or e-WTP, which would shift the focus of the debate over global trade from large multinational companies to small entrepreneurs. The goal of such a framework would be to lower the costs of trading across borders by making regulations for small exporters less burdensome, partially through the breaking down of trade barriers across countries. “We need special rules for small businesses only,” Ma argued, adding that for the developing world, entrepreneurship in the 21st century will be as vital to development as electricity was in the 20th.
There’s no doubt that China has benefited greatly from the entrepreneurship that Ma and Alibaba have unlocked, and that the United States could benefit from a similar jolt. But Ma didn’t address what exactly would change American voters’ minds about the value of free trade, and spur the political will needed to deepen trade ties.
The 2016 election has laid bare a consensus among many Americans who feel they have been shortchanged by increasing global integration, and who don’t trust their leaders to sign trade deals that will cause their standards of living to rise. Regardless of whether these feelings are valid, it’s difficult to see how global leaders will sign on to a new trade initiative when they can’t even finalize ongoing trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is already being negotiated.