VISITING FOREIGN POLITICIANS trying to be helpful should sometimes exercise a little more care not to exhume ideas that their local counterparts have reason to bury and forget. Finland's Foreign Trade Minister Jari Vilen did it this week at a Finland-Hong Kong 'networking luncheon' (a new one for my collection) when he asked Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology Henry Tang Yin-yen to say a few words about CEPA. CEPA, which stands for Consolidated Electric Power Asia, is the brainchild of our visionary Gordon Wu Ying-sheung (no Sir Gordon from me if we do not also speak of Sir Donald or Sir Ka-shing) and it is a fine example, to be sure, of our ability to spread our ideas in technology across the region under the guiding light of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (no Sir C.H. here for sure). Oops, sorry, wrong CEPA. Mr Wu's is so long dead I doubt you would even find a skeleton in the coffin if you tried to exhume it. My apologies, the CEPA Mr Vilen was referring to stands for Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement. The story on this one, as I heard it, is that last year President Jiang Zemin called for some new proposals on drawing Hong Kong closer to the motherland and Mr Tung gave him the usual list of options drafted by the civil service with the usual contingent of ideas to ignore. Mr Jiang made the wrong choice. Let there be CEPA, he said, and CEPA there was. Our civil servants were then told to get busy on this new brainchild. Of course, Mr Tang did not devote all his remarks to the exhumation of the stillborn infant. The usual theme for speeches at such diplomatic occasions is the similarities between the SAR and whatever country it is. If it happens that there are none, well, just soldier on. Henry did. Finland and Hong Kong, yes sir, as like as two peas in a pod. But he did give it a few words and our luck was in. Aside from referring obliquely to both reasons why CEPA has not a chance of being more than talk (not his conclusion, of course) he left us with a gem - 'it would not be meaningful to set an artificial timetable'. Absolutely right, Mr Tang, spot on. Let us have nothing artificial here. A target date for wrapping up talks, even a provisional one, just gets in the way of 'actively engaging each other on the subject' and 'making continuous progress on various fronts'. Stick to your guns. Timetable indeed. Nasty pointless thing. But let us backtrack a little here. The essential idea behind CEPA is that Guangdong grant concessions to Hong Kong companies, nothing explicitly stated here, of course, but you get the point - wink, wink, you're one of our lads. We have a special short queue for you. Ahem, WTO, and if you do not know what it stands for by now you can find the Lan Kwai Fong gossip in the Features section. The rules say there will be no special concessions and China has just signed. Nice to know, Mr Tang, that you say CEPA will be 'fully WTO-consistent'. Pardon me. How? And then we get that question of how to define a Hong Kong company. 'I understand there has (sic) been concerns,' said Mr Tang and, in answer to these concerns, 'we have not come to any conclusions.' Not surprising. Jardines, you see, is Hong Kong's oldest company and word has it that it would like to join the special short queue. There are others like it with a foreign element. How do you winnow the chaff from the wheat of the, ahem, . . . 'real' . . . Hong Kong companies? A certain other word beginning with 'R' may not be used here. No, Mr Vilen, back to Finland with you. When we bury ideas here we like to tell each other how live and kicking they still are. Is it really that different in your own country? Leave the dead in peace, sir.