The vote in Qatar to allow China to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been rightly hailed as a defining event for the mainland. It will mean China is a more integrated part of the world economy, with all the responsibilities that entails. It will also help hasten the often painful transformation of China's economy and create a more powerful trading nation. For Hong Kong, the outlook is less clear. A potential threat could arise because China will rapidly develop an improved market economy, with better legal safeguards and corporate governance standards, trumping Hong Kong's key advantages. As a result, more trade will in turn flow directly to the mainland, bypassing Hong Kong. A more optimistic view is that WTO entry ensures enhanced opportunities in the mainland for Hong Kong business. A WTO-compliant China will mean a new and deeper understanding about trade relations between the SAR and the mainland. Hong Kong's share of the mainland pie may be smaller but the pie itself will be far bigger. For big businesses - either homegrown or those that have made Hong Kong their regional base - entry into the WTO is indeed likely to be beneficial. The mainland will need the skills of the SAR's giants - its bankers, insurers, lawyers and logistics experts - to meet its new obligations. The property companies too will have a head start in building the homes and offices where the growing mainland urban middle class will live and work. These companies have decades of experience competing with the world's best in their respective fields. More importantly, their putative mainland rivals are years behind them in terms of experience and are smaller and therefore less well-equipped to take on the world's multinationals. But for the rest - the vast majority of Hong Kong's ordinary, smaller businesses, and the people who work for them - it is not so clear cut. It is probably better to see China's entry into the WTO not in simplistic terms of good or bad, but rather as a challenge that must be faced and overcome. These small and medium-sized traders, manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers will find they face significantly more competition, both from foreign-invested companies entering the mainland market for the first time and from domestic enterprises beaten into shape by the rigours of competition. The danger is that these smaller companies, which collectively employ a large portion of the workforce, may become swamped by multinationals or by local companies which, provided Beijing gets its economic policy decisions right, have been strengthened to compete on the world stage. However, these second-tier businesses have three key advantages. First, they know their market. Many have built up established brands trusted in China. People everywhere feel comfortable buying what they already know. Second, they have a head start. China's transformation will not be quick. No one should doubt the commitment of those in government in Beijing towards economic reform. Equally, no one should doubt the ability of those further down the chain, in local governments and the businesses those authorities have set up, to protect vested interests and promote local businesses. Outsiders trying to crack the China market, despite all the fine words in Qatar, will find overcoming local interests heavy going. All this gives Hong Kong's businesses time to make use of their third key advantage - their legendary ability to adapt to changing conditions. Left to themselves, the SAR's entrepreneurs have shown that they have the drive and the business acumen to thrive. We have, in other words, been here before. When costs got too high in central Hong Kong, business moved production out to the New Territories. When costs got too high there, they moved across into the mainland itself. That uncanny knack of thriving in a changing world gives every confidence that China's accession will lead to a new stage in Hong Kong's development. It may mean moving up the so-called value chain, in other words producing fewer, but higher quality, goods. It may mean shipping out production even deeper into the mainland, to even cheaper areas, truly Going West. It will take time, but China's entry into the WTO will accelerate the process of economic reform there. Other places will have to adapt to the changing conditions. Hong Kong, which has long thrived as a trading centre, stands to gain more than most, as the volume of goods and services going to and from the mainland expands. Hong Kong's businesses have a history of adapting to any changes in their environment. China's entry into the WTO is likely to be a spur for them to find a new role, as the SAR redefines a relationship with a mainland that has changed forever, now that the country has the right to sit at the top table of global economic planning.