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Connecting Chinese SMEs, SEA

By Xu Wei in Bandar Seri Begawan | China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-14 12:28
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B2B platform Yeebee expands overseas footprint to exploit high-end consumption

Yeebee, a Chinese business-to-business 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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