Jack Ma. Picture: REUTERS
Jack Ma. Picture: REUTERS

Alibaba founder Jack Ma says he encouraged South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to boost the small business sector through tax breaks and other support measures.

"The best way to create jobs is to encourage small business," said Ma, whose net worth is $39bn according to Forbes.

Ma, who co-founded Alibaba in 1999, met with Ramaphosa on Tuesday evening ahead of his foundation’s digital economy conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

He said he told Ramaphosa that all countries should be giving favourable tax rates to start-ups.

"And I’m very happy to hear that he agreed. Because big companies don’t need [tax breaks], start-ups need that."

Taxing small businesses made it more difficult for them to survive and was akin to "taking the meat off mosquitoes’ legs".

"There are so many good conditions for big companies, it’s time to get policies for start-ups."

Ma also said Africa could create "millions of jobs" by implementing continent-wide free-trade policies.

And in an apparent rebuke of US President Donald Trump’s trade war with China, Ma said he was a strong believer in globalisation and that the trend could not be reversed. Rather, the current globalisation model needed to become more inclusive of small businesses.

African countries should also focus on extending connectivity and bringing down broadband costs, while at the same time investing heavily in cloud computing in order to lower information technology costs for start-ups and governments.

Africa’s lack of financial inclusion was a big opportunity for entrepreneurs, he said, and the continent should embrace mobile financial services.

In his home country, China, Ma expected e-commerce to account for more than 50% of retail sales, even up to 80%, within five years – from 15-20% currently.

In SA, e-commerce accounts for just 1% of retail sales.