Building on sound foundations
Trade between Austria and Hong Kong has reached unprecedented levels and looks set to rise further, writes Nick Walker
Austria is a rather more industrious nation than the picturesque images of Alpine contentment might suggest. With its well-developed market economy, a robust industrial sector and a high standard of living, this EU member nation is consolidating on its strengths, and making the most of its proximity to large EU markets.
It is also very much a global player, and despite its landlocked location, trade between Austria and Hong Kong is booming.
According to Maria Moya-Gotsch, Consul General of Austria: 'Last year was another good year for bilateral trade: Hong Kong imported goods from Austria worth HK$4.7billion, more than ever before. And the overall volume of trade between Hong Kong and Austria reached HK$9.3billion in 2006, an unprecedented level.
'These figures reflect Austria's fast-growing exchange of goods with the Asia-Pacific region in general and with mainland China in particular. Indeed, the Austrian Trade Commission in Hong Kong estimates that a third of Austria's trade with China passes through Hong Kong.'
There are now more than 70 Austrian companies with a presence in Hong Kong, a figure that is anticipated to rise in tandem with swelling trade ties.
Many Austrian goods and services form a surprisingly important part of what Hongkongers, and visitors, take for granted as part of everyday life in this city.
As Ms Moya-Gotsch explained: 'It is a little known fact, for example, that a large number of Hong Kong's escalators are imported from Austria. Moreover, the passenger information system of KCRC's West Rail is of Austrian origin, too. Furthermore, Austrian companies have contributed to meeting the demanding engineering challenges of many iconic structures here, including the Peak Tower, Chek Lap Kok Airport, and the complex glass-and-steel exterior of the HSBC Building.'
And Austrian engineering acumen continues to make a difference here. 'Only a few months ago, an ice rink was installed in one of Hong Kong's shopping malls using an Austrian company's pioneering 'absorber-system' technology, the first time it has been employed in Asia,' said Ms Moya-Gotsch.
Austrian consumer goods can be found here in relative abundance, with high-end products such as glassware, exquisitely embroidered tableware, jewellery and fine lingerie, all enjoying brisk sales amid the economic upturn.
Austrian cultural endeavours have a long and enduring tradition here, with classical music being particularly well represented. Last year was especially notable; on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, Hong Kong hosted a number of concerts in the Austrian's honour. These included shows by visiting institutions including the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Vienna Boys' Choir.
Austria's contribution to the visual arts has also been well-represented. Ms Moya-Gotsch said: 'This year, I am especially pleased with the number of contemporary Austrian painters who have been active in Hong Kong.
For instance, a most original project of four giant ecologically-themed grid paintings, by the Austrian painter Emil Herker, has just been completed, with official public HKSAR support, in a local shopping mall.'
There is also the tantalising prospect that the Austrian Opera Ball may return here after a hiatus of several years. 'This is exciting news for the growing Austrian community here, and indeed for everybody who likes to waltz,' Ms Moya-Gotsch enthused.
Meanwhile Austria-Hong Kong educational ties remain good. Ms Moya-Gotsch said: 'There are about 40 exchange students in Austria from Hong Kong and vice-versa at any given time, and this number is growing. Mutual exchange schemes are progressing well.'
Career diplomat Ms Moya-Gotsch has been here for two years. 'Hong Kong keeps me so busy that I have little time to miss my own country.'
But she adds she occasionally longs for the iconography of Central Europe: 'The churches, castles, monasteries - many centuries old - forests and hills where you can freely wander and enjoy clean air, and skiing. But on the whole I am enjoying every moment of my time here in Hong Kong. I certainly attend as many concerts and cultural events as I did at home.'
Over the past two years, Ms Moya-Gotsch has gained a great appreciation of what makes this remarkable city tick.
'There are many things I like and admire in Hong Kong, without necessarily wanting to introduce them into Austria, since we have rather different traditions and values. However, I personally would be happy if we copied the recently enacted smoking ban. Other things that have really impressed me are the Octopus Card - a really brilliant concept, Ocean Park, and the pedestrian walkways between buildings in Central.'
In common with many other Europeans for whom Hong Kong is home, Ms Moya-Gotsch had a highly favourable view of transportation issues. 'The availability of many inexpensive taxis and excellent public transport makes it possible to keep the number of private cars down and provides employment. And the excellence of the airport - which stands as a first-contact symbol of the generally high standards of safety and cleanliness across Hong Kong - could not create a better impression for people arriving here for the first time.'
While sharing the common concerns of most Hongkongers, such as the air pollution problem that has noticeably worsened during her time here, she is upbeat on the overall picture.
'The 500 or so Austrians living here certainly seem to appreciate the quality of life and opportunities that Hong Kong offers them,' she said.