President Macri and Jack Ma met for the second time today. Photo via Casa Rosada

In the last few years, things have not been looking hugely promising for Mendoza’s bodegas, with wine exports falling drastically since 2012. But just days ago, here at The Bubble, we posed the question “Can China save Argentina’s wine industry?” In 2016, China replaced the US as Chile’s main buyer and it was one of the few markets in which the demand for Argentine products was on the rise. Well, today, as if by magic, the man people are calling the ‘Asian Steve Jobs’ may have just given us the answer we were looking for.

Jack Ma, the multimillionaire founder of e-commerce company Alibaba and China’s second richest man, paid a visit to the Casa Rosada this morning to meet with President Mauricio Macri.

The Government also announced that the businessman would be co-signing a memorandum of understanding with the president and several ministers, which will empower small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Argentina to market local products through the major wholesale portal.

Signed by the Minister of Production Francisco Cabrera, Minister of Agriculture Ricardo Buryaile and Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Lino Barañao, as well as Juan Pablo Tripodi, the executive vice president of the Argentine Investments and International Trade Agency, the agreement is focusing on two sectors: that local wine that we all know and love so well and fresh produce, including Argentina’s famed meat, poultry and some fish.

Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba Group and Forrest Gump enthusiast

So, why food? Why wine? Why China, at this time? In his own public lectures, Ma, who has spoken openly about being inspired by the character of Forrest Gump (played by Tom Hanks in 1994) after suffering failure after failure before finding success with Alibaba, has explained how the growing Chinese middle class is relentlessly seeking to improve their quality of life. This recent development has led to heightened interest in foreign goods, so it is hardly surprising that these consumers would want to tap into Argentina’s celebrated wine and meat industries. (Watch this space, next they’ll be asking for tango teachers and maté.)

The initiative kick-started today will allow a significant number of SMEs to export their products through the online platform and take their first steps into a market that only large enterprises in Argentina have managed to penetrate to date. For now, with just a trade agreement, Alibaba will not be installing offices in Buenos Aires and, according to the government committee headed up by Cabrera, “the idea is to do a small pilot test on the platform to start things off.”

The project will no doubt be complex and the role of Barañao’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation will be key to its success, as Argentine SMEs need to simplify their logistics in order to start exporting and must start relying on online payment methods. If the pilot test progresses as Macri is surely hoping, there is a lot of potential here for SMEs wanting to increase trade: according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 480 million Chinese citizens will be part of the middle class by 2030.