HANGZHOU, China – A Chinese online tycoon said Friday he wants to sell 200,000 Canadian lobsters on his site next week while Prime Minister Stephen Harper described the Canada-China economic relationship as “pretty important.”
Jack Ma, head of Alibaba – Asia’s answer to Amazon – declared his company’s goal to sell tens of thousands of the tasty crustaceans on Nov. 11, its annual deep discount day.
The company’s goal, Ma said, is to help Canada’s small- and medium-sized companies, from cherry farmers to lobster producers, sell their products to China’s rapidly expanding middle class.
Ma says 120 million people shop online on Alibaba every day.
“We want to help the small guys sell to China because the big guys, they don’t need us,” said Ma, a Hangzhou native who started up the company from his apartment 15 years ago.
Alibaba now employs 30,000 people. The company’s public stock offering in September raised $25 billion.
Ma said Canadian producers sold 20,000 lobsters on Alibaba last year and hopes to sell 10 times that amount on Nov. 11. He added Alibaba might set up a Canadian operation.
Ma’s enthusiasm for stronger Canada-China economic ties, however, wasn’t fully reciprocated by the prime minister, who confessed one of the reasons he’d travelled to China was simply because Chinese officials “really wanted me to be here” for the APEC summit kicking off Monday.
WATCH: Harper says one of the main reasons for his trip to China and the APEC Summit was Chinese officials who “really wanted me to be here”.
“We have a pretty important relationship here and pretty important opportunities,” Harper said.
Earlier in the day, however, he made note of the importance of Canada’s No. 2 trading partner to the country’s economy.
“We already have half a million Canadian jobs … that depend directly on our trade with China,” Harper told a China-Canada business conference.
WATCH: Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in China Friday to discuss Chinese and Canadian economic relations with Alibaba founder and billionaire Jack Ma.
To chuckles from the crowd, he added that while the number might not seem significant to the most populous country on the planet, it’s a substantial amount of jobs to Canada.
With China’s middle class on the brink of explosion, Harper added, Canada “sees tremendous opportunity.”
To that end, the Conservative government also announced Friday that Canada will open new trade offices in Hangzhou, Xi’an, Xiamen and Tianjin, cities in some of China’s fastest growing areas.
The Prime Minister’s Office said the locations were selected because their needs match Canadian strengths, particularly in the areas of information technology, electronics, automotive, aerospace, medicine, energy and finance sectors.
Currently, Canada has a trade deficit with China of approximately $31 billion. The Conservative government is aiming to increase exports to China to help balance trade.
WATCH: Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in China Friday explaining how Canada’s trade relationship has been growing considerably and is expected to blossom further.
Following his brief remarks at the business conference, Harper and his wife, Laureen, took a morning stroll through the bustling downtown shopping district, making their way to a museum of traditional Chinese medicine.
Curious onlookers gathered on the sidelines, waving at the Harpers and snapping photos on their smartphones.
Inside the museum, the prime minister held up some Canadian ginseng, declaring: “Canadian ginseng … the most expensive here, the best … That is why we’re here.”
He also travelled to the stately lakeside Zheijian state guest house, where he was greeted by Chinese officials, including the party secretary of the Zheijiang province, Xi Baolong.
Baolong, a top Communist party official, is accused of ordering the demolition of hundreds of Christian churches in the province in an attempt to rein in the rise of Christianity in China.
The prime minister has been urged by human rights activists to bring up China’s human rights record while in the country. The PMO says human rights will indeed be on Harper’s agenda when he meets with Jinping, adding that Harper raised religious freedom with Baolong on Friday.
Harper ended the day in Beijing. He’s slated to meet on Sunday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has called for a more open form of government since taking office in 2012.
The prime minister’s latest visit to China was almost scrubbed entirely due to tense relations between the two countries in recent months. Harper accused China of cyber espionage over the summer, while China accused a Canadian couple living in China of being spies.
Some Conservative cabinet ministers, including Jason Kenney, are uneasy about forging closer ties to China, in part due to human rights concerns.
But with China’s middle class ballooning, business groups have urged the government to strengthen the relationship.
Harper is leading a delegation of Canadian business representatives during his China trip. Industry Minister James Moore and International Trade Minister Ed Fast are also along for the visit.
Perrin Beatty, head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, moderated the session at Alibaba.