Economic success for Hong Kong requires more overseas talent, trade body head insists

Trade Development Council executive director Margaret Fong says city remains preferred destination for foreign investors despite warnings by rating agencies

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 10:47am

Hong Kong needs to attract more overseas people with talents to continue to be successful, Trade Development Council executive director Margaret Fong Shun-man said amid worries over a decline in the city’s global competitiveness.

But Fong added that while credit rating agencies had warned about the political divide in the city, she believed Hong Kong was still a preferred destination for investors because of its rule of law and judicial independence.

Fong also said Hong Kong would continue to grow in importance as the country developed.

According to a global competitiveness survey unveiled by the World Economic Forum last week, Hong Kong slid two notches to ninth as it struggled to migrate from being a global financial centre to an innovation-led economy.

Hong Kong exports tipped to fall 4 per cent in 2016 as gloom deepens

Simon Lee Siu-po, assistant dean of undergraduate studies at Chinese University’s business school, said the city’s loss of innovative talent was partly to blame.

Speaking in Hamburg last week as she co-led a TDC promotional tour, Fong said: “It is always of utmost importance for any city – Hong Kong, London or New York – to lure talents from around the world and persuade them to come ... because international talents are the key for a city’s success.”

“Talented people are mobile. So the topic of ‘how to create an environment that they think is conducive’ is big especially when they may have different concerns every day,” the former civil servant said.

Fong added that instead of air pollution, a lack of places at international schools could be a more recent concern for foreigners considering a move to the city.

“Air pollution may have been high on the list five to 10 years ago ... but in the last few years, I haven’t heard anyone telling me that he or she has had to move away over worries about the city’s environment,” Fong said.

She added that during the TDC’s tour in Germany last week, hundreds of companies expressed interest in expanding or starting a business in Hong Kong.

Asked if those German companies could be unaware of warnings by credit rating agencies and the political divide in Hong Kong, Fong said: “In such a transparent environment nowadays, it is impossible that they don’t know or hear about those things. But to put things in context ... they still think Hong Kong is efficient.”

“The fundamentals haven’t changed, they still believe in the rule of law, that our courts will hand down independent judgments, our strategic location will not change ... and there are international talents in Hong Kong,” Fong said.

In April, the European Union issued a highly critical report on Hong Kong, attacking Beijing for its role in the missing booksellers saga.

Five publishers who produced books critical of mainland leaders disappeared from October last year before resurfacing months later amid claims they had been abducted by mainland agents.

But Fong said Hong Kong’s “role will only grow in importance” as the country’s economy develops.

“It is because ... with mainland businessmen wanting to invest abroad, the demand for [the city’s professional] services has increased significantly,” she said.

Before joining the TDC as a deputy executive director in 2010, Fong spent more than 20 years in the government. She rose through the ranks to become the administration's representative in the United States in 2006.