Shanghai free-trade zone

Hong Kong must be ready for competition from Shanghai Free-trade zone: Chan

Secretary for financial services and the treasury warns against complacence as mainland opens up with free-trade zones

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 8:52am

Shanghai's new free-trade zone (FTZ) does not pose an immediate threat to Hong Kong, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Chan Ka-keung said yesterday, but urged local firms to prepare for competition.

"There is no immediate competition from the free-trade zone but Hong Kong companies should not sit back and relax," he said. "There will be competition in future and we need to prepare ourselves as the game is changing."

The Shanghai zone, launched at the end of last month, is a groundbreaking experiment in economic and financial reform on the mainland. It offers tariff-free port areas and measures designed to encourage investment by overseas companies. A first wave of 36 companies has been given the go-ahead to set up business inside the zone, but Citibank and DBS are so far the only foreign banks that have chosen to operate there.

Hong Kong can’t maintain the status quo and must develop new services

"If the FTZ in Shanghai succeeds, China will copy and set up more FTZs around the country," Chan said. "There will also be more relaxation and opening-up policies and capital account liberalisation. When such reforms happen, it will add both opportunities and competition for Hong Kong firms and that is why we have to introduce new services and products to compete."

Analysts have been underwhelmed by the Shanghai zone's debut, citing the lack of details about a freer convertibility of the yuan and scant information about financial reforms. But Chan said more experimental areas would be opened up in the longer term, and that would lure some foreign investment away from Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong has, over the past few decades, enjoyed a lot of advantages as a gateway for foreign investors wanting to invest in the mainland," he said.

"With the FTZ and other reforms to gradually open up the mainland, Hong Kong can't maintain the status quo and must develop new services and products assuming that China will open up its capital account one day."

Chan likened the process to the moves already seen in the internationalisation of the yuan. Beijing initially only let Hong Kong conduct offshore yuan business, starting in 2003, but since last year it has also allowed London, Singapore, Taiwan and Sydney to join in.

"Hong Kong has to prepare for global competition, not just from Shanghai but other markets worldwide as well. There will be keen competition but Hong Kong can compete with its geographic location and financial infrastructure."

Banking sources said that during the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and Hong Kong Association of Banks delegates' annual visit to Shanghai and Beijing next week, local bankers would urge mainland officials to remove the cap on the amount of yuan that Hong Kong customers can exchange each day.

Chan also said Hong Kong's listing regulations worked well and did not need to be changed in the wake of the recent controversy over Alibaba's listing plan.

"The market has reacted positively to the decision of the SFC and the stock exchange over Alibaba," Chan said. "This shows our regulatory system is fine."