Hong Kong trade missions face scrutiny over culture remit
Directors of 16 trade offices queried over spending on festivals and cultural events
Lawmakers have questioned the value of Hong Kong's 16 external trade missions and criticised them for going beyond their remit.
The comments came as directors of the 16 offices appeared before the Legislative Council's panel on commerce and industry on Tuesday - the first time the work of the trade offices has been scrutinised since the new administration took office.
Ann Chiang Lai-wan from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said she was concerned directors were organising many cultural events despite the fact culture was not listed in their terms of reference.
"When I was reading these reports, I was quite puzzled," said Chiang, a DAB vice-chairwoman and also the panel's deputy chairwoman. "It seems they were quite lopsided towards the cultural scene - a lot of cultural activities like the wine-and-dine festival. It seems you are taking over the work of the Home Affairs Bureau but you don't have culture as part of your terms of reference, other than the Taiwan office.
"It seems you are overemphasising the cultural aspect, so if the title of the office is not the same as the nature of your work, it is a bit odd."
The annual reports from the offices detailed a range of cultural events, such as Hong Kong-themed film festivals, as well as sponsored sports, dance or music events, such as the Brussels office sponsoring the first dragon boat festival in Belgium.
Hong Kong has 11 overseas trade offices - in Geneva, Washington, New York, San Francisco, Brussels, London, Berlin, Tokyo, Sydney, Singapore and Toronto.
There are four mainland offices, in Beijing, Guangdong, Shanghai and Chengdu . A Taiwan office opened last December.
Permanent Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Andrew Wong Ho-yuen defended the offices, saying culture was part of their work.
IT sector legislator Charles Mok called for the missions to improve their relationships with the chambers of commerce in their respective countries, saying overseas trade offices in Hong Kong were in tune with the city's industries and projects that were up for bidding, but the same could not be said for the offices overseas.
"I hope you will do more in this respect," he told the directors.
Wong said: "To a certain extent, but I agree we may not have done as much as you wish."
Martin Liao Cheung-kong, an independent lawmaker representing the commercial sector, questioned why Hong Kong only had trade posts in developed economies.
"Why have we not promoted our business in the emerging markets or emerging economies?" he asked.
Wong said: "The establishment of a new ETO is quite a massive investment so we will have to be careful." The offices have a HK$485 million budget this year.