Two sectors are the big winners from new phase of market-opening measures for Hong Kong firms on mainland
Beijing has granted Hong Kong firms fresh operating concessions in the mainland market under the latest stage of Cepa, with lawyers and travel agents the biggest winners.
Announcing the measures to give Hong Kong service companies the jump on foreign competitors, Jia Qinglin , chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, promised more steps in the years to come to facilitate economic co-operation between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau.
The 15 market-access measures, benefiting companies in 10 sectors, take effect in January. They were announced at a forum marking the third anniversary of the signing of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa). They cover firms in the legal, construction, information technology, convention and exhibition, audiovisual, distribution, tourism, air transport and road transport services, and individually owned stores.
Hong Kong travel agencies operating in Guangdong will be allowed to apply to run tour groups to the city for Guangdong residents. The Hong Kong Tourism Board hailed the measure and Commerce Minister Bo Xilai said there was a huge potential market for mainlanders travelling to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong lawyers qualified to practise on the mainland will be allowed to represent clients in divorce and probate cases with a Hong Kong connection; barristers will be allowed to represent Hong Kong clients in civil cases. The Bar Association and Law Society welcomed the moves as small but positive steps.
In addition, a further 37 categories of products made in Hong Kong can be exported tariff-free to the mainland from tomorrow.
Other foreign firms will soon enjoy benefits similar to some of those conferred by Cepa.
Beijing committed to opening China's services markets to other World Trade Organisation members within five years of its accession to the 150-member body in December 2001.
Mr Jia, who ended a three-day visit to Hong Kong yesterday, told an audience of 600 at the forum that Cepa had proved a powerful engine for strengthening economic and trade ties between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau.
'No matter what happens, the motherland is always the strong backup force for maintaining the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macau,' he said. Macau has signed its own Cepa with the mainland.
He said the central government could introduce measures to facilitate economic co-operation between Hong Kong and the nine provinces of the pan-Pearl River Delta region.
Mr Jia confirmed the State Council was studying two measures to expand yuan business in Hong Kong: allowing importers to use the mainland currency to pay mainland suppliers and permitting the issuance in Hong Kong of yuan-denominated bonds.
On a visit to the stock exchange yesterday, Mr Jia called on Hong Kong people to treasure the good situation they found themselves in and assured them the central government would continue backing the city.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said the implementation of Cepa had been important in precipitating the rapid recovery of Hong Kong's economy.
'We estimate that in its first two years of implementation, Cepa has created 29,000 jobs and generated $5.4 billion in services receipts and $5.5 billion in capital investment for Hong Kong,' he said.