Definition of HK firm is central to accord
Companies which register in Hong Kong, pay profits tax, open their offices here and hire half of their staff locally will be able to enjoy many privileges under Cepa.
While the free-trade pact provides early access to the mainland market for 17 Hong Kong service industries, firms will need to satisfy the definition of what constitutes a Hong Kong company in order to benefit from it.
Under Cepa, the business that firms intend to conduct on the mainland must be the same as what they do in Hong Kong.
In general, they also need to be in the city for at least three years with substantive operations, but a five-year requirement is set for banks, insurance companies and construction firms.
In addition, banks and insurance companies need to be licensed to get Cepa's benefits, while sole traders and all the partners of a law firm must be registered.
Eden Woon, chief executive of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, said the definition was loose enough to allow many companies, including local subsidiaries of multinationals, to enjoy the benefits of Cepa.
'It is loose, but ... shell companies shouldn't be able to gain anything from the agreement,' he said.
Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, deputy chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, also welcomed the definition, saying it was 'very loose, very pragmatic and it should be good for Hong Kong'.