Sustainable growth in the Asia-Pacific region may be at risk unless trade and investment liberalisation is sped up, a leading economist says. Lingnan College president Professor Edward Chen said many economists were missing the point about Asia when they pointed to improved productivity as the key to the coming years. 'They are using the past to predict the future. The model is wrong. It underestimates the dynamism in this part of the world. Asia is different,' he told visiting US business leaders. 'It is important to get away from studying individual countries and consider the region as a whole. 'If Asia-Pacific is to keep growing, we need to do it together. That means breaking down the barriers that slow free trade and investment and ensuring the region has stable political relations.' A priority had to be put on ending protectionism and other barriers which increased the costs of cross-border trade. That was why organisations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum were vital, Prof Chen said. Many of the region's countries were at different stages of development, he said. 'Evolving competitive advantage should mean nations complementing rather than competing with each other.' Asia had a unique opportunity to create what he described as a 'virtuous circle of growth'. As foreign investment moved to lower-wage countries, their improved earnings potential would spur further growth in their more mature neighbours. Mr Chen said Hong Kong's future might not be reliant on China, as many believed. 'Sustainable growth in the rest of Asia is vital to the territory's future as much as growth in China.' The Hong Kong Government could not be complacent; it needed to act now by setting up more economic development offices in other countries, he said.