Lawmaker wants review of trade missions as costs rise

Lawmaker says overseas offices should be reviewed to ensure they offer value and don't overlap with other investment agencies

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 4:13am

Hong Kong's network of trade missions around the world spent HK$70 million more this year than they did in 2006, prompting calls from lawmakers and economists for renewed scrutiny of the benefits they bring to the city.

The calls come ahead of Legislative Council inspection later this month of the annual reports from the 11 economic and trade offices, which detail their activities, including how many foreign companies they have brought to Hong Kong in the past year.

The offices, which employ 146 staff, are expected to cost about HK$303 million to run this financial year, up from HK$232 million in 2006.

Their activities include helping companies set up in Hong Kong, hosting trade visits and organising trade promotion seminars and fairs.

New IT sector lawmaker and pan-democrat, Charles Mok, a member of Legco's commerce and industry panel, which scrutinises the work of the overseas missions, has suggested that a fresh look be taken at whether the work of the missions overlaps with that of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and InvestHK, agencies that also promote inward investment.

"We should look at whether there is an overlap with the trade offices, the TDC and Invest HK," Mok said.

"We also need to look at whether or not circumstances have changed and if some offices are not needed any more, as well as considering new, emerging markets.

"It's always good to have regular, periodic reviews and it's not just about cost saving but about maximising return, because in some cases, maybe we need to spend more."

Since 1997, the government has had 11 economic and trade offices in key markets including London, New York, Geneva, Brussels, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo. It also has four on the mainland. Each office is tasked with promoting Hong Kong as a place to do business and works in conjunction with TDC counterparts in each country.

Dr Li Kui-wai, associate professor with City University's economics and finance department, said the offices were as relevant today as 15 years ago when they were established because companies wanting to access the lucrative mainland market looked to Hong Kong as an easy gateway.

"Without [the missions], nobody knows about Hong Kong unless they go through the Chinese consulate," Li said.

But he said there was a need to review their reach, and called on the government to look at whether existing offices might refocus on markets such as Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

A spokesman for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said there were no plans to close any trade offices or to open new ones.

He said a fifth one on the mainland was managed by the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau.

The bureau spokesman said budget figures for the offices before 2006 were not available.