A free-trade-zone project in Thailand, launched in 2018 by Alibaba Group Holding while company founder Jack Ma was still CEO, has finally started trial operation.
The digital hub in the so-called Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) - a special economic zone made up of three provinces in eastern Thailand - is part of the electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP), a multinational initiative backed by Ma to promote global trade.
The initiative is currently being featured by the Global Digital Trade Expo, a six-day trade fair that opened on Sunday in Hangzhou, capital of eastern Zhejiang province and home to Alibaba's headquarters.
Alibaba is the owner of the South China Morning Post.
The free-trade zone, which occupies an area of 40,000 square metres (430,000 square feet), has bonded warehouses that can stock imported commodities after entry declaration, according to a statement by eWTP on its official WeChat channel.
It is expected to allow Thai consumers to receive their e-commerce purchases from China in three days, down from the current 10 days.
The trial run, which began on Thursday, marks a major progress for the partnership agreement, which was signed in April 2018, with the zone originally set to be fully operational by 2019.
The initiative was set up in collaboration with the Eastern Economic Corridor Office of Thailand, a public agency that aims to encourage investment and innovation in the Southeast Asian country, along with the Customs Department.
The eWTP was proposed by Ma in 2016 at the Boao Forum for Asia. Since then, he has promoted the project personally at various events, including the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The initiative soon gained the endorsement of the Chinese and overseas governments. It became part of the policy recommendations of the B20 summit in 2016 and was later included in the communique agreed by Group of 20 (G20) leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, at their summit in Hangzhou that year to support "policies that encourage firms of all sizes to take full advantage of global value chains".
While Ma has retired from his corporate roles at Alibaba, the project lived on as part of the e-commerce giant's efforts to establish an eWTP. Under the initiative, partnerships have been established in Hangzhou, the eastern city of Yiwu, the southern province of Hainan, as well as Hong Kong.
The logo of Alibaba Group is seen at its office in Beijing, China, on Jan 5, 2021. (Photo: Reuters)
In 2017 Alibaba launched a project in Malaysia, which includes a regional logistics centre near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and an accompanying electronic platform, in collaboration with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation, marking the Chinese company's first project of its kind outside Hangzhou.
The establishment of Thailand's first digital free-trade zone "marks the successful replication" of China's cross-border e-commerce innovation model in Thailand, and "provides practical experience" for the future development of Thailand's local cross-border e-commerce industry, Song Juntao, secretary general of eWTP, was quoted as saying in eWTP's statement.