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12 August 2020 (closed)
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The USD $1 billion acquisition of Southeast Asia-based e-commerce platform Lazada Group SA by China's e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd may give rise to a larger flow of Chinese products into Indonesia. Lazada is an e-commerce platform that operates in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Southeast Asia is an interesting market for Alibaba as only 3 percent of retail sales are conducted online in this region, implying huge growth opportunities. Meanwhile, Alibaba has been eager to expand abroad as growth in China has been slowing.
Through the acquisition Alibaba is to have a firmer grip on the online retail business in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, the region's largest economy where Internet and smartphone penetration have been developing rapidly in recent years (although coming from a low base). The Southeast Asian nations where Lazada has been operating so far have a combined population of 560 million (of which an estimated 35 percent are online and thus potential online shoppers). However, Southeast Asia is also a challenging environment for online retail firms as the area is characterized by tough logistical issues (partly due to the relatively weak state of infrastructure) and there remains a lack of warehousing outside more advanced markets such as Singapore.
Through the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), effective per 1 January 2010, about 90 percent of imported goods between Indonesia and China are subject to a zero percent tariff. Due to China's higher developed manufacturing industry and lower logistics costs the implementation of CAFTA has caused a continuously rising flow of Chinese products into Indonesia. This has caused a rising trade deficit and also curtails development of Indonesia's manufacturing sector (after all it is cheaper and quicker to import products from China than to invest in costly and long-term import-substitution industrialization).
In 2015 Indonesia imported USD $29.22 billion worth of (non-oil & gas) products from China, while Indonesian exports to China only totaled USD $13.26 billion, implying a trade deficit of nearly USD $16 billion for Indonesia that year. This is in stark contrast to the years before 2008 when Indonesia had the upper hand in trade with China. The table below shows that Indonesia's trade deficit with China rose significantly after the implementation of CAFTA in early 2010.
Indonesia-China Trade Balance (non-oil & gas):
|Export to China
(in USD billion)
|Import from China
(in USD billion)
(in USD billion)
Source: Indonesian Trade Ministry
With Alibaba now owning a controlling stake in e-commerce platform Lazada, which has a rising costumer base in Indonesia, it could cause two developments: (1) due to the stronger ties between Lazada and China it gives rise to an increasing flow of Chinese products into Indonesia putting pressure on Indonesia's trade balance, and (2) it threatens the position of local Indonesian start-up e-commerce businesses such as Bukalapak or Tokopedia because Lazada is expected to get a capital injection from Alibaba for expansion purposes and has easier access to cheap Chinese products (more competitive).