Hong Kong to work on free trade deal with Asean

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 April, 2013, 4:25am

Hong Kong and Asean have agreed to pursue a bilateral free trade agreement, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung announced in Beijing yesterday.

The latest move, however, followed a counterproposal by Asean that came after the city government's original request that it join the China-Asean free trade area, which came into operation in 2010.

Asean comprises 10 Southeast Asian member states, including key economies like Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

"In terms of negotiation, there will be a lot of work as there are 10 countries [in Asean]. We can't set a deadline and say the negotiation will be completed this year," So said.

"As there are so many countries, the negotiation process will be considerably complicated.

"The agreement can help Hong Kong businesses create more opportunities, and, in the long run, help us boost our economic growth."

A public consultation would be conducted to gauge the interests of local businesses in the Asean market, So said.

Professor Chong Tai-leung, an economics professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said one possibility for the counterproposal was Asean's desire to get around the mainland's protectionist trade policies when negotiating with Hong Kong.

As Hong Kong already imposes a zero-tariff for most trade activities, it is believed the agreement will be more beneficial for the city than it will for its Asian counterparts.

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, also in Beijing, announced that the early and pilot measures for Hong Kong's services industry currently applicable in Guangdong would be extended to the whole of the pan-Pearl River Delta region, which included a total of eight provinces and the Guangxi autonomous region.

He also said he gained assurance from the National Development and Reform Commission that the city would play a role in the preliminary discussions relating to the 13th national five-year plan that takes effect in 2016.