One surefire way to get an audience with Donald Trump appears to be the promise of American jobs, even if you're one of China's leading pariahs in the eyes of U.S. trade officials.
Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, met with the president-elect Monday at Trump Tower to pitch plans on how to create 1 million American jobs by helping small businesses sell to China.
"A great, great entrepreneur; one of the best in the world and he loves this country and he loves China," Trump told reporters after the meeting. "Jack and I are going to do some great things."
The meeting comes less than three weeks after the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative returned Alibaba to the list of "Notorious Markets" that engage in rampant copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting — a major slap in the face for a company that still holds the record for largest IPO when it listed in New York in 2014.
The agency said Alibaba's leading e-commerce platform, Taobao, has made strides cracking down on fakes, but that levels of the goods remain "unacceptably high" and pose a risk to consumers.
Still, a pledge to create American jobs would help counter one of Trump's chief concerns about the U.S. relationship with China — namely that the yawning trade gap was stifling employment at home.
In recent years, China's strengthening middle class has increased demand for U.S. products such as fresh fruit, cosmetics and baby supplies, Alibaba says. The company even invested in a warehouse in Southern California to more efficiently ship American goods to China.
"Providing Chinese consumers with access to goods made outside of China has long been a key strategy for Alibaba," the company said in a statement Monday.
Trump has been nothing short of confrontational about China, both as a presidential candidate and president-elect. The celebrity businessman has blamed China for fabricating climate change and eating America's lunch when it comes to trade. That's created a cloud of uncertainty about how the countries will proceed, particularly in business, once Trump takes office.
Given the mood, Alibaba initially suggested Washington was politically motivated in its decision to place the company on the "Notorious Markets" list last month.
"Our results speak for themselves," Alibaba Group President Michael Evans said in a statement at the time, which highlighted how the company had more than doubled the number of counterfeit listings it booted off its platform in the last year. "Unfortunately, the USTR's decision leads us to question whether the USTR acted based on the actual facts or was influenced by the current political climate."
Alibaba shares were up about 1% by mid-afternoon.
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