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November 19, 2015

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Obama talks business with Alibaba’s Ma

UNITED States President Barack Obama yesterday took time out from an Asia-Pacific summit for an unusual task — putting questions to Chinese Internet billionaire Jack Ma and a young Filipina entrepreneur on government-business ties in a panel discussion.

Obama joked comfortably with the founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, which is looking to make inroads into foreign markets, including the US.

During the discussion on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila, Obama probed Ma on how he thought government and established businesses could help young entrepreneurs.

“Government is simple — just reduce the tax, or no tax, for these guys,” Ma said, to a wave of laughter and applause from the audience of executives.

“You got a lot of cheers from your fellow CEOs,” Obama quipped in response.

Ma’s remarks came as Alibaba is working to invest heavily in ventures abroad. Executives have said its push beyond the China market is a top priority, as the company works to maintain its rapid growth even as the prospect of e-commerce saturation at home looms large.

Alibaba has said some of its larger overseas markets include Brazil and Russia.

Obama also praised the relatively unknown Filipina entrepreneur, Aisa Mijeno, a professor of engineering who invented a lamp powered by salt water. He suggested that Ma should invest in the company of his fellow panelist after she said she was looking for funding to mass-produce the lamps.

“I’m just saying,” Obama said, throwing Ma a suggestive look.

Ma said Alibaba has invested 0.3 percent of its revenue for the past six years in encouraging young people to find solutions to climate change and other environmental issues, adding that he thinks it is a “fantastic idea” to invest in clean technology, referring to a recent conversation in which Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates broached the idea.


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