More trade barriers to go: ministers
Talks will begin soon on next round of Cepa, officials say, after details of agreement with mainland are announced
The Hong Kong and mainland governments promised to lower more barriers to cross-border trade after announcing more details on the first round of Cepa yesterday.
Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen and Vice-Minister of Commerce An Min pledged during a signing ceremony for six annexes to the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement there would be more concessions to come.
'Cepa is an open and continuous system, there will be new developments,' Mr An said.
Mr Tang added: 'It will be a continuous effort to enhance as well as broaden the content of Cepa.'
It is understood that talks are set to begin soon on the next round of Cepa. Discussions will include the opening up of mainland education, culture and sports, information technology and environmental services sectors to Hong Kong companies.
With the signing of the six annexes, details on issues such as the rules of origin for goods and definition of service companies were announced. A copy of the free-trade agreement will be filed with the World Trade Organisation.
Under the amended Cepa, qualifying Hong Kong companies will be allowed to export 273 types of goods to the mainland without having to pay tariffs. Service companies in 18 sectors will be allowed easier access to the mainland market from January.
For other products, 'the mainland will apply zero tariffs at the latest by January 1, 2006', depending on petitions by local manufacturers and agreements on rules of origin, the government said.
'The next step is to discuss further liberalisation,' Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology John Tsang Chun-wah said. 'The next round of work will begin very soon. We will strive for more mutually beneficial agreements.'
Mr An and Mr Tang said it was now up to the private sector to capitalise on the opportunities provided by Cepa.
'With Cepa, we will have more opportunity to co-operate and more opportunity to compete,' Mr An said.
Business groups welcomed yesterday's developments.
'Over the last weeks we have been getting a lot of inquiries from friends and business partners asking about Cepa,' said Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, vice-chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries. 'Now with the new details, I'm sure some will likely come to Hong Kong.'
The federation said it was pleased about the rules-of-origin requirements, particularly a provision that allows design, development and intellectual property to count towards the 30 per cent value-added requirement for 40 types of goods. This would encourage creative industries in Hong Kong.
The rules of origin determine how much content must be added to a product in Hong Kong before it can qualify for tariff-free export to the mainland.
The value-added requirement includes skilled processes performed before, during or after a product's manufacture that raise its selling price.
Eden Woon Yi-teng, chief executive of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, said Cepa was 'clearly beneficial to a lot of people, but not all'.
'If you don't do business in China, it won't affect you,' he said.
Mr Woon said the chamber would now be looking to move beyond the initial agreement and expand into other areas, such as making Hong Kong an offshore renminbi trading centre.
A WTO spokesman in Geneva said the organisation would scrutinise the contents of Cepa. A working panel, which any members can join, would be set up to examine the provisions of the pact.
The Cepa annexes signed yesterday added telecommunications to the original 17 service sectors given mainland access.
Telecom companies will be given access to five telecom subsectors, including paging, messaging and Internet access, content services and data storage.
Investors will also be allowed to buy bigger stakes in mainland insurance companies - 24.9 per cent instead of the proposed 15 per cent.
IT'S A DEAL
187 out of 273 Hong Kong goods enjoying zero-tariff status will quality using existing rules of origin
Hong Kong investors will be allowed to buy bigger stakes in mainland insurance companies - 24.9 per cent instead of the proposed 15 per cent
Telecommunications companies will be given access to five value-added services
Both sides agree to enhance co-operation in seven areas of trade and investment
Foreign companies acquiring a Hong Kong firm will have to wait a year before qualifying to enter the mainland market under Cepa