Firms are coming to Hong Kong from all across Europe

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 May, 2013, 5:20am

Ask the average Hongkonger what they know about Romania and the answer is likely to centre on the legend of Count Dracula.

But the eastern European country, which has just 200 citizens in the city, is quietly strengthening its business presence in Hong Kong with the imminent creation of its first business chamber.

"When a country sets up a chamber of commerce in a place, it is a sign that something is happening," says Talida Goaen, Romania's consul general in Hong Kong, who may head the chamber when it begins operations later this year.

Romania is one of many European countries whose entrepreneurs are seeking opportunities in the East, according to the inward investment body InvestHK, which has also seen more inquiries from Turkey, Bulgaria, Poland and Scandinavian countries about setting up offices in the city in the past year.

"There were both push and pull factors," said Invest HK's director-general Simon Galpin. "The flat economy in the euro-zone countries pushed the companies to look for growth elsewhere, and the opportunities posted by China and Southeast Asia have put Hong Kong in the spotlight, given its easy accessibility for foreign companies."

Before the financial crisis, 80 per cent of Romania's trade was within Europe. But the economic downturn and the euro-zone debt crisis have forced businesses - including the country's wine industry - to seek alternative markets.

While its wines may not be as well known as those of its neighbours further west, Romania has 180,000 hectares of vineyards under cultivation and a 2,000-year history in viniculture, as well as low production costs and relatively untapped export potential. It's hardly surprising that producers there are looking to tap the ever-growing Chinese wine market. Goaen said the number of Romanian enterprises attending the annual wine fair in Hong Kong climbed by 50 per cent in each of the past two years.

Domeniul Coroanei Segarcea is among firms looking to provide a cheaper alternative to France's Bordeaux region. Romanian firms in other sectors, including electronics and lighting, are also moving into Hong Kong, with an eye on mainland opportunities.