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SAN FRANCISCO — Last year, Chinese online sales giant Alibaba said it could create 1 million jobs in the United States over the next five years by building a marketplace where American small businesses could sell to China’s burgeoning middle class.
Now Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma says with U.S.-China trade becoming increasingly contentious, the promise cannot be fulfilled.
In an interview Wednesday with Xinhua, the official state-run press agency of the People’s Republic of China, Ma said the idea was premised on a friendly U.S.-China partnership and rational trade relations.
“That premise no longer exists today, so our promise cannot be fulfilled,” he said.
On Monday the United States announced a new round of tariffs to be levied on $250 billion worth of Chinese-made goods, after failing to reach a deal with China on trade issues.
Trade analysts and business groups warn that the U.S. duties and retaliatory tariffs that China imposes on U.S. products will drive up costs and harm consumers in the long run.
When Ma made the statement in January 2017, he wasn’t saying Alibaba would hire 1 million Americans, but rather than it expected American small businesses to find enough customers through it in China that that their sales would rise, allowing them to hire more workers.
Ma said this week Alibaba wouldn’t stop working to contribute to the healthy development of trade between the two nations, and that trade between the two countries and in the world still needs improvement.
“But trade is not a weapon and should not be used to start wars — it should be the driver for peace,” he said.
Ma made the original promise in 2017 just before President Donald Trump was inaugurated. At the time, Trump had been complaining of the trade imbalance between the United States and China.
In June of last year, Ma spoke at an Alibaba conference in Detroit aimed at convincing American small businesses that China was a market for them.
More: Donald Trump: ‘Great meeting’ with Alibaba’s Jack Ma
Cross-border shopping offered a promising area of growth for online retailers, with Alibaba stepping in to provide the knowledge and tools necessary to make it relatively simple.
China represents a potentially enormous market for U.S.-produced food, cosmetics, vitamins and other items. Chinese consumers don’t trust the safety and wholesomeness of Chinese-grown foods and Chinese-made beauty products and they’re especially worried about anything that touches their or their children’s skin. In China, American food and products have a very high reputation.
Ma announced earlier this month that in a year he plans to resign as chairman of Alibaba, one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies, in order to devote himself to education.