Alibaba CEO Jack Ma eyes Pakistan for investment?

Chairman of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma met with Pakistani Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday and expressed deep interest in investment in Pakistan.

The meeting came on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Jack Ma said that the conglomerate was monitoring Pakistan’s economic growth and e-commerce sector.

Jack Ma said that the giant wants to support small-scale industries in developing countries. He also informed the Pakistani premier that the Alibaba Group has been facilitating 60 million companies across the globe. Whilst talking about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he added that the historic investment would promote bilateral ties between the two states.

Ma invited the Pakistani Prime Minister to visit Mr Ma’s headquarters in Guangzhou, China for further discussions.


Alibaba is China’s dominant player in online commerce, with its Taobao platform estimated to hold more than 90 per cent of the consumer-to-consumer market, and its Tmall platform is believed to have over half of business-to-consumer transactions.

On January 17, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of eBay, Devin Wenig had branded emerging markets of the world the fastest growing of all in the e-commerce sector. The statement came in response to a question regarding Pakistan.



UK losing millions in VAT from non-EU sellers on Amazon and eBay

Both firms say they have no obligation to police VAT compliance by sellers as Brussels warns of huge rise in goods shipped with value under-declared

The UK is expected to lose tens of millions of pounds in VAT avoidance and evasion this Christmas as a growing number of non-EU sellers, including hundreds from China, increasingly dominate sales of popular gifts on Amazon and eBay.

“There has been a huge increase in this trade which is very difficult to control,” a senior Brussels source told the Guardian. “The system is so complicated it’s open to abuse.”

Customs officers are aware that some overseas sellers are under-declaring the value of goods shipped to the UK and other European destinations in order to qualify for VAT exemptions on low-value packages.

“You’re getting packages which the [online] customer might have paid €100 [£70] for. And they’re coming in [through customs] identified as €20, or as gifts. And that’s the abuse,” said the source, who has close knowledge of the subject. This deception benefits the seller because lower-value goods – less than €22 in most EU member states and £15 in the UK – are exempt from VAT.

Growing numbers of businesses from China are using Chinese-run warehouses in UK port cities as staging posts, allowing them to offer eBay and Amazon shoppers rapid delivery as well as competitive prices.

In many instances, sellers are not disclosing VAT numbers in their eBay and Amazon listings. When asked by a customer for a VAT receipt, several have simply replied that they do not apply the tax.

All overseas businesses selling on eBay and Amazon must apply VAT on their UK sales from the moment they start selling to customers in Britain, regardless of how low their turnover is in the UK.

VAT can be avoided only if items are sold from outside the EU, are genuinely low-value and are imported in small packages already addressed to individual consumers.

The Guardian has seen evidence of Chinese sellers on eBay giving invalid VAT numbers as well as sharing, or cloning, numbers belonging to other businesses, all of which suggests there may be serious compliance failures or fraud.

Evidence was shown to eBay, which said cases highlighted by the Guardian would be discussed with HM Revenue & Customs.

“eBay reminds all its users of their need to comply with their legal obligations and we also provide helpful guidance on VAT through our policies and help pages,” the company said. “If eBay sellers are found to be breaching UK VAT compliance rules, we will cooperate with HMRC in all cases where HMRC provides evidence of underpayment of taxes.”

Amazon said sellers on its site were “independent businesses responsible for complying with their own VAT obligations”. It added: “We don’t have the authority to review their tax affairs.”

Amazon argued that sellers using its site were not required to post their business details or VAT numbers on Instead they can meet EU seller disclosure rules by making the information available in an email to customers or in a paper invoice delivered with goods bought.

Brussels sources disagreed, insisting EU rules required that customers be informed of seller details before making a purchase. “In practice, for sales via online marketplaces, the information must be provided on the website,” one source said.

Both eBay and Amazon said they had no obligation to police VAT compliance by sellers using their sites, and no liability in cases in which sellers are found to have committed VAT fraud.

Richard Allen of Ravas, a tax fairness campaign group which represents UK small traders, said: “The systematic abuse of the VAT system results in damaging price distortions that drive legitimate UK businesses to the wall, and workers out of their jobs.” His members have spent months cataloguing evidence of suspected VAT abuses and have passed on their findings to senior Whitehall and Brussels officials.

Brussels sources told the Guardian that out-of-date VAT rules were too complex and ill-suited to the internet age. An overhaul including the removal of low-value exemption is planned, but it will be years before some changes come into force.

About a dozen member states are understood to have informally clubbed together to explore interim measures they can take to cope with the rapid rise of non-EU sellers, many offering VAT-free prices.

British customs officers have tried to increase scrutiny of small package imports in the last year, but they are under pressure to prioritise the monitoring of imports for terrorism threats, drugs and counterfeit goods.




Parents are being warned to be on their guard against counterfeit toys this Christmas after tests revealed some contained harmful levels of chemicals.
The fake Maleficent Disney figures, seized by trading standards officers, are the latest in a long line of counterfeit products found to contain high quantities of phthalates.
Meanwhile, a report published this week has found that £174 million is lost to counterfeit toys and games each year in the UK alone.
Several other cheap imports and counterfeit products – such as dolls, swimming goggles, fancy dress make up, false nails and loom bands – have been seized or recalled because of unacceptable levels of the substance.
If ingested when a toy is chewed the chemical, used to soften plastics, can lead to an increased risk of cancer, asthma and fertility problems in later life.
Robert Chantry-Price, a lead officer for product safety at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said:
“It is frightening to think that large quantities of phthalates are still being used in children’s toys, especially when it can cause such serious long term consequences to a person’s health.
“Phthalates are carcinogenic, mutagenic and can cause reproductive problems but, despite legislation to the contrary, significant amounts of these substances can be found in a wide range of toys and child care products.
“If these toys fall into the hands of very young children or babies, it’s more likely they will chew on the plastic and consume the chemicals.
“Trading standards services are continuously working to tackle the issue but it is vital consumers remain vigilant too.
“Parents should be cautious when buying toys this Christmas and not fall for the first deal they see.
“Make sure to buy from reputable shops, beware of products that are drastically cheaper and look at the packaging for the distributor’s details and a CE mark.
The National Trading Standards Safety at Ports and Borders Teams prevented 2,582,692 unsafe and non-compliant items from entering the market in 2014/15, a total value of £79,546,900. This included items such as phone chargers, toys, beauty products and mechanical equipment.
The Maleficent toys, seized by Warwickshire trading standards earlier this month, were found to contain 18 times the legal limit of phthalates.
In January, fake ‘Frozen’ dolls were found to contain phthalates, with thousands of the Disney toys seized from shops in Pontefract and West Yorkshire.
In addition, last year cheap imports of plastic charms from loom bands sets were found to be 50 per cent over the legal limit of phthalates.
The use of phthalates is tightly restricted from use in toys across Europe and toy manufacturers and products must contain no more than 0.1 per cent.
The Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market report found that the EU toy industry loses €1.4 billion a year to counterfeit goods.
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Freight Tetris: Exploring London’s hi-tech Gateway port

Cables whistle through pulleys, as quay cranes swing containers between ship and shore.

Heavy machinery rolls along rails to the strange music of beeps and sirens. Further from the shore, 20m-high stacking cranes choreographed by computers load and unload lorries . And all this comes with a minimum of visible human effort.

Welcome to the 21st Century container port.

This is London Gateway on the River Thames in Thurrock, Essex. It’s owned by Dubai-based DP World.

Britain’s newest container port – it’s less than two years old – uses the latest technology to make its operations as efficient as possible.

In the control room, banks of computer screens could place you in any generic open-plan administrative office.

But the hard hats dotted about hint that this is somewhat different.

‘Complicated game’

Closer inspection of some of the screens reveals charts containing numerous charcoal blocks – graphic representations of the metal containers that are the staple of the global freight trade.

“From here we plan, control, monitor and execute all the container movements”, says operations manager Ivan Deosdad i Lopez.

“It’s like a very complicated game of Tetris.”

London Gateway’s operations control manager Ivan Deosdad i Lopez can monitor the entire port from his desk

Tetris is a maddeningly addictive computer game involving the arrangement of coloured blocks. This is why London Gateway actively seeks job applications from gamers.

After all, the controls of a quay crane are not too dissimilar to a game console.

These quayside cranes are huge, roughly equivalent to the London Eye in height with their booms up. And they can move four containers on or off a ship at once.

Each container is identified by an optical character recognition system that reads a unique identifying code – a combination of four letters and seven numbers. This helps track the containers as they move around the world.

The quayside cranes can lift four containers at once

The 6m or 12m long metal containers can carry anything from car parts to clothing, perishables to periscopes – in short, a vast array of goods demanded by industry or consumers.

Southampton’s port – also owned by DP World – offers customers “live terminal data” giving them the ability to track cargo “from ship to shore”, while the UK’s busiest container port at Felixstowe has just commissioned two new track-mounted gantry cranes to increase cargo volumes by rail.

Female touch

While a lot of the port operations are automated, people are still required. Yet the workforce is a far cry from the nearly all-male ports of old.

“Around 1-in-10 of the terminal operatives is female, which I guess is pretty impressive for the port industry,” says Lucy Golding, a terminal operative.

DP World’s Lucy Golding: “Around 1-in-10 of the terminal operatives is female”

Her duties include driving tractors to move containers within the port. She also happens to have a Masters in History from the University of Amsterdam.

Elsewhere on the site, a former beautician from Basildon retrained to become a crane driver.

Fishmeal and fumigation

Of course, it wasn’t always like this. Manual handling of loads on and off barges under sail occurred within living memory.

“We used to carry fishmeal which used to stink to the high earth,” recalls 71-year-old Suffolk skipper Gordon ‘Willie’ Williamson. He’s now master of the 1909 Thames sailing barge, Ardwina.

Suffolk skipper Gordon ‘Willie’ Williamson on the 1909 Thames sailing barge Ardwina

“Some barges used to carry what they called hoof and horn to take to the glue factory, which was the bones and hoofs of animals.”

Holds that had carried such odorous cargo required fumigation before they could transport foodstuffs again, he says.

In the Museum of London Docklands, historian Alex Werner goes back even further.

“At the beginning of the 19th Century and right through to the early 20th Century the most common form of shipment unit was the barrel.”

Although we now associate barrels principally with wines and spirits, in those days they would also carry dry goods, he explains.

Historian Alex Werner recalls the days when most goods were transported in wooden barrels


Global trade has moved into the digital world and ports are using the latest technology to help them attract new trade from Asia and the Far East.

Ships calling at London Gateway take in countries such as India, Argentina, Morocco, the Caribbean, and South Africa – it’s like some vast never-ending version of London’s Circle Line.

The quicker ports can move containers between train, truck and ship, and the more reliably they can keep tabs on them in port and in transit, the better it is for importers and exporters.

London Gateway’s Xavier Woodward says the internet has put pressure on retailers to deliver goods faster

Buyers are increasingly expecting next-day delivery of goods.

“The internet has had a dramatic effect on the way that retailers operate,” observes Xavier Woodward, the port’s communications manager. “We have a large modern port directly connected to what will become Europe’s largest logistics space for retailers.”

Freight shipping is now a non-stop global operation

Technology is helping to make our hugely complex global trading system as efficient and seamless as possible.

But who’d have thought Tetris gaming skills would be an advantage?


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