Hong Kong has rejected accusations by the World Trade Organisation that its intervention into the stock market in August gave an unfair advantage to companies in which it had bought shares. Yvonne Choi, Deputy Secretary for Trade and Industry, told the WTO that the share support action was 'exceptional, probably unique'. Her comments follow concerns in the WTO's four-yearly report on Hong Kong that Hang Seng companies which had the Government on its share register may now be able to borrow more cheaply, given the implied Government backing. 'The Government did not believe that this intervention conferred any advantage on those companies whose shares were purchased, and the shareholding would be sold in an orderly manner,' Ms Choi said. In a speech to the WTO, Ms Choi said there was 'no question of us departing from our basic principle of free trade and open market'. She said the decision to intervene had been 'agonising' and the Government had 'fully appreciated the risks of our action being misinterpreted as an attempt to boost the stock market or as a departure from our commitment to the free market principle'. Most countries praised Hong Kong for its achievement in remaining one of the most open trade markets in the world, despite the Asian financial crisis and the transition to Chinese sovereignty. But the United States said it was disappointed at the level of telecommunications liberalisation in Hong Kong, where it claimed the Government would not open further its fixed-line market as existing operators had committed to substantial investment. 'This could have the effect of putting a freeze on the new issuance of licences,' US Ambassador to the WTO, Rita Hayes, said. 'US companies are anxious to invest in the [Hong Kong] market, and we believe it is consistent with the free trade philosophy of the region to allow for open competition in a critical area of its infrastructure.' Both Japanese and US officials said they were also concerned about the enforcement of laws to combat copyright piracy, despite Hong Kong substantially strengthening its rules and signing up to the WTOs intellectual property agreement. 'We appreciate this accomplishment. Having said that, though, in the Hong Kong market, we can still easily find goods bearing a forged trade mark, and pirated cassette tapes and audio-visual software,' Koichi Ito, first secretary at Japan's WTO mission, said. The European Union called on Hong Kong to build on its reputation as being among the freest of markets, and said it should use any influence it has on the mainland to further Beijing's application for WTO entry. 'Indeed, Hong Kong which stands to be one of the major beneficiaries of Chinese membership of the WTO, should act as an example to the whole of China of how an open and globally integrated market is necessary to achieve lasting economic stability,' it said.