Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge

Impetus for new thinking

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 January, 2007, 12:00am

During Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's visit to Beijing last month, Premier Wen Jiabao reaffirmed support for Hong Kong's position as an international financial centre, a logistics hub, and a conference and exhibitions centre.

And the central government has backed up those words. Soon after Mr Tsang returned to Hong Kong, the State Council announced approval for mainland financial institutions to issue yuan-denominated bonds in Hong Kong.

The move will have a far-reaching influence on development of the local bond market, since it will reinforce Hong Kong's status as a financial hub and help open up a new financial-services business.

Mr Tsang has also enlisted Beijing's support to bolster the city's role as an exhibitions hub. This will facilitate trade between the mainland and countries all over the world.

Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology Joseph Wong Wing-ping said this week that the government was studying the expansion of exhibition space at Chek Lap Kok and in Wan Chai. It is also looking into strengthening exhibition facilities in a bid to maintain the city's competitiveness and attractiveness in the highly competitive global exhibitions sector.

The exhibitions and conference industries deserve the government's full backing. First, they bring the latest technology, industry, culture and consumer spending trends to Hong Kong, enabling it to stay ahead of other markets in the Asia-Pacific region.

Second, by holding exhibitions, Hong Kong can become a centre where the latest products from all over the world are launched. This would enable wholesalers and retailers to ascertain consumer response to quality or pricing.

Third, the growth of the exhibitions sector would provide a stimulus for the development of business travel, hotels, catering, transport and other related sectors. Economic benefits and employment opportunities would be substantially increased if more large-scale international conferences or exhibitions were held in Hong Kong each year.

A large cut in the duty on wine would help boost the competitiveness of our city's conference and exhibition business. Such an initiative could encourage the growth of the catering and hotel industries, attracting more tourists to Hong Kong.

It could also help turn Hong Kong into a regional wine hub - for domestic consumption or re-export to the mainland.

I suggested such a move to Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen last year. Mr Tang, who has a reputation as a great wine lover and for having a large collection of red wine, possibly feared that he would be accused of carrying out the measure for his own benefit. Whatever his reasons, he refrained from announcing such reductions.

However, Mr Tang has already paid the duty on his wine, and there should not be any conflict of interest. As long as he declares his wine collection, he will by no means be blamed for cutting the duty. After all, the reductions will benefit society as a whole.

Mr Tang should seriously contemplate adopting the suggestion, should he want to turn Hong Kong into a wine hub, as well as boost the development of the conference and exhibitions, business travel and catering sectors.

Now that the central authorities have identified financial services, logistics services, and conferences and exhibitions as the key areas for development, the government should focus its energies on strengthening the city's competitiveness in these sectors of potential development.

There is no doubt that Hong Kong has a robust economy. However, this is largely the result of the strong growth on the mainland.

The individual visit scheme and Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement will not sustain our economic growth. It is high time our city redefined its status and developed new economic impetus to continue its prosperity and stability.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a directly elected legislator