The event will allow business leaders to meet officials who drafted the deal The upcoming Cepa Business Leaders Forum, jointly organised by the School of Professional and Continuing Education of the University of Hong Kong (HKU Space) and the mainland's Ministry of Commerce, will provide a unique opportunity for executives to meet with the officials who helped put together the trade agreement. The forum, to be held in Beijing between October 31 and November 2, gives the decisionmakers of Hong Kong and foreign-owned enterprises an opportunity to discuss the implementation of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa) with officials from the central government's ministries, bureaus and departments. 'Cepa will have a significant impact on Hong Kong, and it is important for the commercial sector in Hong Kong to understand what it really means,' says Professor Enoch Young, HKU Space director. 'The objective of the forum is to give industry leaders the opportunity to talk to people in the central government who were actually involved in drafting Cepa.' The June 29 signing of Cepa was a significant step forward in economic and trade relations between Hong Kong and the mainland. Under the agreement's initial phase, 273 goods manufactured by local companies and imported to the mainland are eligible for tariff-free status, provided they satisfy rule-of-origin requirements. In addition, service companies in 18 sectors will also be allowed easier access to the mainland market. The new rules come into effect on January 1. The agreement will not only save millions of dollars in tariffs but is expected to attract foreign companies wishing to gain a foothold in the mainland to Hong Kong to explore partnership opportunities. The agreement is also seen as a forerunner to the wider opening up of Chinese markets under World Trade Organisation rules. When these rules come into effect, mainland companies will be expected to compete with foreign enterprises in many of its fastest-growing service sectors, such as telecommunications, insurance, banking and securities. By partnering Hong Kong companies and taking advantage of the agreement, foreign-owned enterprises will be able to take advantage of first-mover status ahead of much of the competition. The forum is specifically designed so that chairmen, chief executives, directors and entrepreneurs from Hong Kong, the mainland and overseas can discuss the practicalities behind Cepa's implementation with the officials who drafted the agreement. Forum leader Christopher Cheng Wai-chee, the former chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, a council member of the University of Hong Kong and the chairman of Wing Tai Corp, says this is the first time such a diverse and large number of mainland officials will be gathered together, and it thus provides an excellent opportunity for frank and informative discussion. 'All this face-to-face communication will lead to better implementation of phase one and the development of future phases,' he says. The forum will bring together officials from central government departments including the Ministries of Commerce, Finance, Justice, Transport and Construction (China), Customs General Administration, Securities Regulatory Commission, Sureties Regulatory Commission, State Administration of Foreign Exchange, Bank of China, Financial Industry Regulatory Commission and State Intellectual Property Office. Professional bodies including the Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accountants will also have delegates at the forum. Representing Hong Kong will be a number of forum leaders and advisers from a broad range of professions and industries. These include Phillip Chen Nan-lok, Cathay Pacific's chief operating officer; Linus Cheung Wing-lam, a council member of the University of Hong Kong and deputy chairman of PCCW, and Kwok Kwok-chuen, chairman of the Hong Kong Coalition of Service Industries and chief regional economist at Standard Chartered. The event will focus on a wide range of topics relating to Cepa's implementation, impact and benefits. Delegates will have the chance to meet officials during the forum's formal plenary sessions, at the less formal lunch and dinner engagements.