KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has become the first country outside of China to take part in Alibaba's electronic world trade platform (eWTP) initiative, which envisions digital free-trade zones for small and medium-sized businesses.

The bilateral agreement, which was sealed at a launch ceremony in Kuala Lumpur attended by the Malaysian Prime Minister and Jack Ma, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Chinese e-commerce giant, will lead to the creation of an e-hub.

Alibaba Group announced in a statement that the partnership marks a key milestone in the realisation of the eWTP's vision to lower trade barriers and provide "more equitable" access to global markets for SMEs and young people around the world.

It also fits in with Jack Ma's stated ambition for Alibaba to build a customer base of 2bn people over the next decade – a goal he reiterated during a recent conference at Alibaba's headquarters in Hangzhou.

Commenting on the agreement with Malaysia, Ma said: "I laid out the vision for eWTP last year, and we as a company have taken on the responsibility to make this a reality.

"The first e-hub under the eWTP outside of China will go a long way towards making global trade more inclusive and provide much needed support to a hugely important constituent: SMEs and the younger generation.

"With innovation throughout the supply chain, support from governments and important private sector collaborations, we will achieve our aim of enabling SMEs and young people to thrive and enjoy in the fruits of the next phase of globalisation."

Under the terms of the deal, Alibaba will work with the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation to establish an e-fulfilment hub near Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

There also will be a one-stop, online, cross-border trading services platform that will link the new Malaysian e-hub to the original one in Hangzhou, which is expected to facilitate trade between the two countries.

In addition, both parties will examine how to improve e-payment and financing for SMEs, and there will be training programmes to help start-ups and develop digital skills.

"Alibaba Group is at the forefront of private sector development of e-commerce solutions and their ambitions to enable trade, particularly for SMEs, make them the perfect partner in this new initiative," said Dato' Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak, the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

"This is an exciting development for the country, and to be an early participant in eWTP will provide a plethora of opportunities for Malaysian organisations."

Data sourced from Alibaba; additional content by Warc staff