Business restrictions are the biggest hurdles preventing Hong Kong service providers from entering foreign markets, according to a report compiled by an industry think-tank. Companies told researchers their ability to offer seamless international services to customers was compromised by prohibitions on market access. The report was carried out by the City University's department of economics and finance on behalf of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce's Coalition of Service Industries. 'Offering a one-stop shop for customers is absolutely essential for companies trying to retain their clients,' said Zhang Anming, acting head of the university's economics department. Respondents also identified limits on foreign equity ownership and the number of operating licences awarded. Asked what else they thought were priority issues to be addressed at this year's round of multilateral trade in services negotiations, respondents said they wanted improved information flows and transparency of court rulings on business disputes and other trade-related laws. Hong Kong businesses also wished to see more relaxed immigration policies, as well as improved market infrastructure. The report said domestic regulations in most countries were poor at promoting competition, with weak customs and enforcement of intellectual property rights and competition laws undermining the ability to conduct business fairly and effectively. Most of the 9,438 'wishes' compiled from the respondents were directed towards Asian countries, with the mainland alone accounting for 38 per cent. The service sector is particularly important to Hong Kong as services account for 85 per cent of the SAR's gross domestic product. The report was conducted ahead of the commencement of a new round of multilateral trade policy negotiations, set to get under way this year under the World Trade Organisation, as agreed at the end of the General Agreement on Trade and Services during the Uruguay Round in 1995. The 'wish-list' was designed to advise Hong Kong's representatives at the new service sector negotiations. 'Given its open regime, Hong Kong has relatively little room to offer trade concessions to other economies,' the report said. However, David Dodwell, a director of Jardine Fleming and a commentator on trade issues, disagreed, saying there was still plenty of room for improvement in the SAR in terms of liberalisation of services. Mr Dodwell said Hong Kong would do well to continue liberalising its services sector, rather than waiting for the WTO to implement the further opening up of services on a global level. Mr Dodwell said Hong Kong could be the big loser from the global liberalisation process as the advantage it enjoyed as an open economy would be neutralised when the mainland eventually joined the WTO, thus diminishing the need for many companies to do business in Hong Kong.