Hong Kong international schools will be allowed to set up in the as-yet undeveloped new economic zones of Qianhai in Shenzhen and Hengqin in Zhuhai.
The measure is one of 43, intended to boost trade and foster cross-border co-operation, that are contained in the ninth supplement to the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa), signed yesterday between the mainland and Hong Kong.
Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and Vice-Minister of Commerce Jiang Yaoping officiated at the signing. The measures are designed to benefit 22 sectors of Hong Kong's services industry by making it easier for them to operate on the mainland.
It is the first time Cepa's scope has been extended to educational services.
The original Cepa pact was signed in 2003 to help Hong Kong recover from the economic impact of the Sars outbreak. Originally focused on manufacturing, it has since been extended to cover services, but many of its intended beneficiaries - professionals and businesses - complain about red tape stifling their endeavours.
As well as being allowed to operate schools in Qianhai and Hengqin, the education sector will be allowed to provide training services, both wholly owned and through joint ventures, on the mainland.
An English Schools Foundation spokesman said the group would look into the scheme but Hong Kong was its priority.
Roy White, head of International College Hong Kong, said his focus would remain in Hong Kong, although the mainland could be a bigger market. 'We consider ourself more an educator than a business,' he said.
The agreement also allows the city's travel agents to organise group tours to Hong Kong and Macau from anywhere on the mainland. In the past, only agents based in nine southern provinces, Beijing or Shanghai could sell tours to the cities.
Travel Industry Council chairman Michael Wu Siu-ieng said the new arrangements would enable local agencies to explore the group tour market on the mainland.
'People living in the Pearl River Delta seldom join tours to Hong Kong as they can come on their own under the individual visit scheme,' he said. 'The real potential lies in tertiary cities, and the new arrangement allows us to tap the huge market.'
All the measures will take effect on January 1, after which mainland authorities will work out the details of their implementation.
The new agreement also means accountants with a national qualification can become partners of firms in Qianhai; qualified architects and engineers can set up firms of their own in Guangdong; and law firms can operate in association with a maximum of three mainland law firms, up from just one now.
To step up financial co-operation, the asset threshold for mainland enterprises to list in Hong Kong will be lowered. Authorities will also explore lowering the eligibility requirements for Hong Kong financial institutions to apply for qualified foreign institutional investor status, which lets them trade yuan-denominated 'A shares' on mainland exchanges.