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Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma attends the WAIC in Shanghai, China, on Sept. 17, 2018.

ALY SONG/Reuters

Alibaba chairman Jack Ma says trade frictions between the United States and China could last for two decades and would be “a mess” for all parties involved, citing a need for new trade rules.

Mr. Ma spoke Tuesday at an Alibaba investor conference in Hangzhou, hours after Washington said it would impose duties on an extra US$200-billion worth of Chinese imports, which drew a warning from Beijing that it would retaliate.

Mr. Ma said trade tensions would likely impact Chinese and foreign companies immediately and negatively. He predicted “a lot” of Chinese businesses would move production to other countries in the medium-term to get around the tariffs.

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“You may win the battle, but you lose the war,” he said at the shareholder event.

New trade rules were needed over the long term, he said. “Even if Donald Trump retired, the new president will come, it will still continue ... We need new trade rules, we need to upgrade the [World Trade Organization]."

Mr. Ma made the comments in what he said was his last speech to shareholders as chairman of the Chinese internet giant. He announced last week that he will step down within a year and hand the company reins to chief executive Daniel Zhang.

Mr. Ma met with Mr. Trump last year in a high-profile meeting where he promised to create one million U.S. jobs linked to small merchants selling items on Alibaba platforms. Trade relations have since deteriorated between China and the United States in a tit-for-tat escalation in tariffs.

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