December 9, 2013, 1:13 PM

Britain’s prime minister meets China’s top e-commerce executive

David Cameron and Alibaba’s Jack Ma agree to promote British goods online in China.

Lead Photo

Jack Ma and David Cameron posted this "selfie" on Twitter.

The United Kingdom’s prime minister only met with two Chinese businessmen on his three-day trip to China last week, and one of them was Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group, the country’s leading e-commerce operator, underscoring the growing role of online retail in international trade.

The 15-minute closed-door meeting between David Cameron and Ma mainly took up how British retailers and brands could sell their products online to Chinese consumers, according to Alibaba’s Alizila blog. Following the meeting, Ma signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.K. Trade & Investment department, a government agency that promotes British exports. The two parties agreed to jointly promote the sale of British goods to Chinese consumers on Alibaba-owned web marketplace

During the meeting, Cameron introduced Ma to several British business executives in his delegation. They included Andy Rubin, CEO of British shoe retailer Pentland Group, which already operates stores on Tmall, selling footwear from such brands as Speedo and Lacoste. Rubin said sales are good and his company plans to open another storefront on Tmall.

Other retail executives in Cameron’s group included Peter Williams, founder of Jack Wills, a British retail apparel chain; Julie Deane, managing director of fashion handbag retailer Cambridge Satchel Co.; and Li Ning, CEO of London-based furniture e-retailer

Jack Wills ranks No.338 in the Internet Retailer Europe 500. Alibaba Group is No.1 in the Internet Retailer Asia 500.

In the past three years, many U.K. retailers have entered the China market. For example, U.K.-based department store chain Marks & Spencer, No. 18 in the Internet Retailer Europe 500, has opened 14 stores in China in the past two years, including one e-commerce store on

During the meeting, Cameron also introduced to Ma the CEO of London Stock Exchange Group, Xavier Rolet, and encouraged the Alibaba chairman to consider London as the site for Alibaba’s planned initial public offering of stock. Alibaba this fall broke off negotiations with Hong Kong stock exchange officials after failing to gain an agreement on terms for the IPO, and the Chinese company is considered likely to offer shares on an exchange in New York. Some analysts expect the IPO to value Alibaba at $100 billion or more.

Throughout his visit, Cameron emphasized the significance of China’s economic growth over the past three decades, saying it dwarfs that transformation Britain went through during the Industrial Revolution, and provides a major opportunity for U.K. brands. “Our economic relationship is accelerating, with exports up by almost 20% in the first half of this year,” Cameron said on one speech in China. “As China expands and hundreds of millions of Chinese become richer, they will want the products in which Britain excels—Jaguar Land Rover cars, Burberry fashion, top-quality entertainment, including television and film.”

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