Protecting Hong Kong investors key concern for talks on Asean free-trade pact

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 7:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2014, 3:36am

Protecting Hong Kong investors from danger will be high on the agenda when the government starts free-trade talks with Asean nations, lawmakers have heard.

The pledge came from Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung, in the light of anti-China riots in Vietnam, which is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Lawmakers in turn urged the government to act now, by evaluating the damage inflicted on Hong Kong businesses in the current unrest and demanding compensation from the Vietnamese authorities.

Talks were looming in July over a Hong Kong-Asean free-trade pact, which So said would provide for investment promotion and protection.

"The agreement would require a contracting party to ensure the safety of investments made by the other party," he told a meeting of the Legislative Council's commerce and industry panel yesterday.

According to the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, the agreement would require countries to reasonably compensate investors if their businesses suffered any loss of property during a war or other emergency situation, though it would not guarantee full compensation in a riot.

Some 700 to 1,000 Hong Kong firms operate in Vietnam, So said.

The commerce chief said he met Vietnam's industry and trade minister last week at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Qingdao , Shandong . He took the chance to urge the Hanoi government to take appropriate action in protecting Hongkongers and their properties, the legislators heard. After the verbal request, Hong Kong would seek increased protection for its investors in other parts of Asia, So said.

Lawmakers at the session said the government should immediately take action, including by assessing the losses suffered by Hong Kong manufacturers in Vietnam. Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese authorities have carried out similar assessments.

"The secretary has always focused on expanding the market [for local businesses]," industrial-sector legislator Lam Tai-fai said. "But it does little when there is a crisis [in an overseas market]."

Felix Chung Kwok-pan, representing the textiles and garment sector, said losses resulting from suspended operations should be taken into account in any survey assessing the damage.

Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said the Immigration Department had received 10 requests for air tickets from businesspeople wanting to return home as soon as possible. All the requests had been fulfilled, Lai said, but some of them later decided to stay on as the situation had quietened down.

Meanwhile, about 30 members of the New Territories Association of Societies protested outside the Vietnamese consulate, demanding that the country crack down on violence and protect Chinese investors.