Alibaba has chosen the Belgian city of Liège as the home of its logistics hub. Despite a late diplomatic challenge by the Netherlands, the first flights from China have arrived in Belgium just after the major sales event of Singles' Day.
The start of an extensive collaboration
There is no physical warehouse or any other infrastructure for Alibaba as of yet, but this year's Singles' Day saw the first planes flying between the Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou and Liège. The Walloon city is now officially the first logistics hub in Europe for the Chinese e-commerce giant. The self-made festival has generated 27 billion euros of sales for Alibaba this year, and some of the orders were flown to the new hub right away.
“We've already started an extensive collaboration” between Alibaba's logistical daughter company Cainiao and the airport, admits top executive Terry Von Bibra in an interview with Belgian newspaper De Tijd. Liège is currently Alibaba's only hub for e-commerce parcels on the European continent, although it probably won't end there. The expansion of Alibaba in Europe will not stop at Liège, says Von Bibra, hinting to a possible expansion into the Netherlands.
Alibaba's managing board (including founder Jack Ma) were received personally by Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte last summer, who was hoping to lure Alibaba out of Belgium and suggested Maastricht and Weert as possible alternatives. In the end the Chinese chose for Liège after all, as Von Bibra just made public. The decision may have been influenced by good relations between Belgian King Filip and Jack Ma at the WEF in Davos.
Breath of fresh air for Belgian e-commerce logistics
The promised warehouse is still some way off: Cainiao would be planting a 380,000 sqm warehouse, the size of 50 football fields, near the airport at Liège. The European top executive as yet refuses to make any more specific statements: "It's not just a question of constructing a building," he said.
For the region around Liège – and by extension all of Belgium – the warehouse would be most welcome. Not only could it bring thousands of new jobs to an area with few job opportunities, it also gives new hope to Belgian e-commerce. After many missed investments – Zalando recently chose the Netherlands over Dour in Wallonia – Alibaba might be able to bring new life to the Belgian e-commerce industry. Perhaps the Chinese company may even make its mark on Belgian legislation in order to create a more "e-commerce-friendly" climate, hints De Tijd.