Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma said on Tuesday the internet should be a utility available to the whole world, putting his weight behind a call for e-commerce by United Nations to boost developing economies and help fight poverty.
Ma, who advises the United Nations trade and development agency UNCTAD on small business and young entrepreneurs, was the star attraction at a conference on e-commerce for development.
"The Internet should be treated as a utility and should be treated also as the infrastructure of global development," he said. "Everything will be online and everything online will have data. And data will be the energy for innovation."
UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said he and Ma would meet in Kigali in July with 10 African presidents and young entrepreneurs, aiming to persuade the politicians of their responsibility to help their young populations realise their potential.
Ma said his first trip to Africa would focus on e-commerce payment to support inclusive and sustainable development, as well as education and environmental protection.
He said Alibaba Group Holding Ltd had created 33 million jobs in China because each small business online could create at least three jobs. He met US President Donald Trump in January and said the firm would create a million US jobs.
Earlier, a group of developing countries launched a road map for using e-commerce to drive growth, narrow the digital divide and help poorer countries develop.
Pakistan's Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said only half the world's population would be online by year end ─ 40pc in the developing world and 15pc in poorer countries.
"The offline population in developing countries is mostly poor, female, elderly, less educated and in rural areas," he said.
Issues such as data protection and taxation of crossbred online purchases must be worked out, he said, but e-commerce could be "a bulwark against the negative effects of globalisation".
The developing world needed a voice, he said, comparing a small group of internet giants, such as Amazon, e-Bay and Alibaba, to the veto-wielding nations of the UN Security Council.
Argentina's Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra said she hoped the World Trade Organization would agree a new e-commerce mandate at a meeting in Buenos Aires in December.