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Jack Ma Named U.N. Advisor as Alibaba Extends Overseas Reach

Jack Ma, executive chairman of China’s Alibaba group, has been named as a special advisor on youth entrepreneurship and small business to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Ma, who recently headed a small business task force at the G20, will support UNCTAD in its mission of maximizing trade, investment and economic advancement in developing countries and the UN’s 2030 ‘Agenda for Sustainable Development.’

Ma has recently been campaigning for what he calls the Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP), an internet-based international group he wants to establish in order to lower trade barriers and help SMEs more easily participate in international trade.

The moves underline the growing soft power role of leading Chinese companies in parallel with the scaling up of their businesses. This week Ant Financial Services, the separately controlled financial arm of Alibaba, was attributed a valuation of $75 billion by securities firm CLSA. Bloomberg reported that such a valuation would make it worth more than Wall Street champion Goldman Sachs, currently valued at $70 billion.

CLSA said that Ant Financial’s payment service Alipay has a projected worth of $50 billion, its micro loans business could be worth $8 billion and its wealth management unit $7 billion. It also has some $10 billion of investments and cash. It has used its clout to buy stakes in financial companies overseas, including Indian payment provider Paytm.

Ant Financial, which is personally controlled by Ma and was controversially kept out of Alibaba’s 2014 New York Stock Exchange flotation, is believed to be considering an IPO in Hong Kong in early 2017. Alibaba would have the option to buy a one third stake or receive a one-time payment.

Anticipation of the value of the Ant Financial IPO may have played a part in the recent hike of Alibaba’s share price. In the past three months Alibaba stock has soared 30% from $78.15 per ADR to $101.45 at the Tuesday close. That compares with a 2.7% gain for the S&P500 index and a 1.8% gain for the Dow Jones 30 index over the same period.

This week Alibaba also launched a new version of DingTalk, its social media service for businesses. In a blog posting Alibaba likened the service to China’s WeChat and the U.S. workplace communications tool Slack. Operating with a ‘freemium’ business model, Alibaba claimed that the service has 2.4 million enterprise subscribers and said that number was growing by 200,000 per month.

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