Both centres seek status as regional training centre for government officials on WTO The University of Hong Kong is vying with the National University of Singapore to be the regional centre in providing training on World Trade Organisaton (WTO) rules for Asian government officials. Both universities submitted proposals to WTO representatives during visits to their campuses early this month. The regional centre is part of the organisation's attempt to offer more localised training for officials, outside its Geneva headquarters. Johannes Chan Man-mun, dean of HKU's law faculty, the provider of the proposed programme, said HKU was seeking to make its expertise in WTO issues one of its cutting edge programmes in the next five years. Targeting officials from about 30 countries, the proposed intensive three-month programme would boost both Hong Kong's international status and ties between HKU and other institutions in the region, Professor Chan said. While WTO officials will deliver part of the training, HKU intends to draw from its expertise in wide-ranging disciplines, from economics and politics to urban planning. Training should not just familiarise officials with WTO requirements but also enhance their understanding of various issues such as environment and intellectual property, said Professor Chan. 'We can enrich the programme and give it a distinct Asian flavour. Our advantage over Singapore is our strong range of expertise. We can pull in vast resources from our business school, faculty of social sciences, the centre of urban planning and the centre of Asian studies. Indeed these units have been doing WTO-related studies.'' The free flow of information and rule of law in Hong Kong were other favourable factors, he added, though Singapore might have an advantage in campus accommodation and strong government backing. WTO will announce in a month's time which is chosen. Representatives from the chosen institution will be required to attend briefing sessions in Geneva. Professor Chan said Hong Kong's high chances of playing host to the WTO ministerial conference in 2005 would be in the university's favour. It could allow officials taking the course to see the organisation in action. 'We can arrange for the trainees to attend some of the conference sessions. They can also see how negotiations are conducted,'' he said. HKU's latest bid is part of the law faculty's newly established East Asia International Law and Policy programme, financed with $8.3 million out of the university's development fund. The programme covers research mainly on the impact of China's WTO entry and new teaching programmes. Professor Chan expects the training initiative to help raise the faculty's capacity in research and other areas. Additional resources could be obtained through co-operation with other institutions in the region, after the training programme took off. 'At a time of budget cuts, you have to do more rather than less. If you do less you will get further cuts. It is only by innovation or bringing in new programmes that you can bring in new resources,' he said. 'Traditionally we have established our links with North America, Europe and mainland China. In a way we have underplayed the importance of institutions in the region. In Korea or Thailand, there are very good universities.''