Hong Kong should find a way to take part in a prospective free-trade zone covering the mainland and Southeast Asian countries, a government think-tank says.
Speaking after a meeting of the Commission on Strategic Development, Central Policy Unit head Lau Siu-kai said members of the advisory body had discussed the possible impact of a free-trade agreement between Beijing and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and had taken the view that it might marginalise Hong Kong.
Under the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Co-operation between Asean and the People's Republic of China signed in 2002, a free-trade zone encompassing the mainland and the 10 Asean nations will be set up by 2010. Only sovereign states are eligible to join the agreement.
'With the free-trade zone, more goods from Asean countries will enter the mainland market and more mainland goods will enter the Southeast Asian market too ... on the other hand it is not easy for Hong Kong to develop the Southeast Asian market,' Professor Lau said, summing up the opinions of commission members.
Although the special administrative region cannot join the pact as a full member, Professor Lau said commission members urged the government to talk to the central government and find ways to take part in the free-trade zone. Suggestions raised included giving Hong Kong observer status and giving the city representation on committees and taskforces under the bloc.
Professor Lau said that in the past Beijing might have been hesitant about letting Hong Kong join in the agreement because that could prompt Taiwan to demand the same treatment. 'Now the political situation in Taiwan has changed and cross-strait co-operation is growing. It can be a new opportunity for Hong Kong to explore solutions,' he said.