Con­nect­ing Chi­nese SMEs, SEA

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By XU WEI in Ban­dar Seri Be­gawan [email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

Yee­bee, a Chi­nese busi­ness-to­busi­ness or B2B plat­form that of­fers pro­fes­sional ser­vices for trade, is look­ing to fur­ther ex­pand in South­east Asian mar­kets.

Yee­bee al­ready has a pres­ence in In­dia and Sin­ga­pore. Its sights are now set on Brunei, Malaysia and In­done­sia, said Zhang Tao, its CEO.

“We are try­ing to link up more small ser­vice providers from China with those in South­east Asia,” he said.

Yee­bee is mainly used by small and medium-sized ser­vice providers. They list their ser­vices on the plat­form. Busi­nesses in need of their ser­vices can strike deals for them us­ing the plat­form.

Some of the pop­u­lar ser­vices avail­able for trade on Yee­bee are ed­u­ca­tion, tourism, med­i­cal care and fi­nan­cial ser­vices.

Zhang vis­ited Brunei in Novem­ber 2018 to pro­mote his com­pany’s ser­vices. He said more than 20 com­pa­nies in Brunei have signed up.

“In the fu­ture, we fore­see more de­mand for high-end con­sump­tion across ed­u­ca­tion, tourism, med­i­cal care and fi­nan­cial ser­vices in Brunei,” he said.

Even though the South­east Asian coun­try has pro­vided its res­i­dents with free health­care and ed­u­ca­tion, there could be de­mand for high-end ser­vices, he said.

Chi­nese trav­el­ers be­came the largest in­ter­na­tional tourist group in Brunei last year, and Yee­bee fore­sees op­por­tu­ni­ties for co­op­er­a­tion be­tween tourist agen­cies in the two coun­tries, he said.

Mean­while, the grow­ing pres­ence of Chi­nese busi­nesses in Brunei could also give rise to de­mand for fi­nanc­ing ser­vices, which Zhang said can be met by Chi­nese fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions.

In Brunei, Yee­bee is re­ly­ing on help from lo­cal cham­bers of com­merce to pro­mote its ser­vices, Zhang said, adding that the plat­form can en­able more co­op­er­a­tion be­tween small and medium-sized ser­vice providers in China and those in Brunei.

In In­dia, the com­pany has al­ready at­tracted about 2,400 com­pa­nies to its plat­form, while in Sin­ga­pore, about 1,900 com­pa­nies have reg­is­tered their ser­vices.

In all, Yee­bee has 800,000 reg­is­tered ser­vice providers in China, and is tar­get­ing to in­crease the num­ber to 1.5 mil­lion this year.

Zhang re­called Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s an­nounce­ment at the first China In­ter­na­tional Im­port Expo in Shang­hai in Novem­ber that China will im­port ser­vices worth $10 tril­lion in the next 15 years. That has bol­stered Yee­bee’s con­fi­dence to fur­ther ex­tend its ser­vices over­seas, he said.

China has been the big­gest con­trib­u­tor to the global growth of ser­vices im­ports. In the past five years, the coun­try’s im­ports of ser­vices have con­trib­uted 25.8 per­cent to the growth of global ser­vice im­ports, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by the Min­istry of Com­merce dur­ing the im­port expo.

China’s to­tal ser­vices im­ports are ex­pected to reach $2.5 tril­lion over the next five years, which would ac­count for more than 10 per­cent of the world’s to­tal ser­vices im­ports, the re­port said.

Zhang said Yee­bee is now eye­ing economies par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, in­clud­ing those from Cen­tral Asia, and is keen to meet their de­mand for ser­vices of small and medium-sized providers in China.

“Cur­rently, China’s ser­vice ex­ports are mostly dom­i­nated by large busi­nesses. But the ma­jor­ity of the ser­vice providers in China are SMEs. There will be more op­por­tu­ni­ties for them to ex­port their ser­vices in the fu­ture,” he said.

Yee­bee is try­ing to serve as a li­ai­son be­tween ser­vice providers in China and those in South­east Asian coun­tries to fa­cil­i­tate the im­port and ex­port of ser­vices, he said.

The Chi­nese ser­vice providers can strike deals with their for­eign coun­ter­parts through the com­pany’s mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions or via WeChat, he said.

“Mar­kets in coun­tries like Brunei are unique be­cause large com­pa­nies would not bother to ex­pand their ser­vices there be­cause of the high costs re­lated to pro­mo­tion rel­a­tive to the small mar­kets,” he said. Brunei’s pop­u­la­tion in 2017 was about 420,000, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal me­dia.

He noted that cur­rently it is mostly large con­struc­tion com­pa­nies from China that are un­der­tak­ing projects in Brunei, and the con­struc­tion boom could end in the next two to three years after the projects are com­pleted.

“What comes next must be providers of ser­vices ca­ter­ing to the ris­ing de­mand,” he said.

Quite dif­fer­ent from e-com­merce gi­ants like Alibaba or JD, on­line providers of ser­vices such as Yee­bee would not be de­terred by the lack of dig­i­tal pay­ment ser­vices in South­east Asian coun­tries. Yee­bee mostly re­lies on mem­ber­ship fee for prof­its, he said.

“What we do is to link up the ser­vice providers. We are not mon­i­tor­ing the deals,” he said. Trade in ser­vices would rely on off­line chan­nels to com­plete the deals.

“It is un­like buy­ing a key ring from on­line plat­forms, in which the deal is com­pleted upon re­ceiv­ing the prod­uct. In trade in ser­vices, buy­ers and providers must build trust first, and it takes time for the ser­vices to be com­pleted,” he said.

Zhang fur­ther said Yee­bee is not charg­ing any fee from reg­is­tered providers of ser­vices over­seas in a bid to ex­pand its reach.

Yet, it may take some time for busi­nesses in South­east Asia to de­velop the habit of re­ly­ing on on­line chan­nels to con­duct their busi­ness.

“That is why we are fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Alibaba in­so­far as try­ing to shape user habits here is con­cerned,” he said.

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