The EU-Hong Kong Re-admission Agreement opened a world of business opportunities and set the foundations for dealing with the problem of illegal immigrants. Hong Kong's economic importance to the European Union cannot be understated. Even after the territory returned to Chinese sovereignty, the EU maintained a second office in the city. 'China is the only country in the world where we have a delegation in the capital city and an office in another city,' office head David Ting says. He says the office also shows the importance the EU attaches to the principle of 'one country, two systems'. It gives the EU an in-depth perspective on how such a new system works and it continues to publish reports on its progress. In this light, 'the EU-HK Re-admission is very important,' Mr Ting says. 'It is not only of political importance but is very important in general for the EU.' Although it is the first such agreement, what is more important is the pace at which it was negotiated and agreed, Mr Ting says. The EU-HK Re-admission Agreement was signed on November 27 last year in Brussels by commissioners Chris Patten and Antonio Vitorino and the then Hong Kong financial secretary, Antony Leung Kam-chung. The agreement was born from the community's decision in March 2001 to grant visa-free access to Hong Kong SAR passport holders. It was initialled on November 22 that year during a visit to Brussels by Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. 'The Hong Kong government was fully aware of our position and tried its best to negotiate the agreement,' Mr Ting says. The EU-HK Re-admission Agreement forms the basis for new agreements, the second of which was signed recently in Macau. 'We have granted free access only to Hong Kong and Macau passport holders and not to mainland Chinese passport holders,' Mr Ting says. 'We trust in the efficiency of the Hong Kong and Macau administrations and we know they man the boundaries very well.' He is not ruling out similar agreements with China itself. 'This month we are going to sign the first step of this agreement with China, at the summit meeting between the EU and China,' he says. 'After signing, we will send a proposal for a re-admission agreement.' Mr Ting expects negotiations to begin 'most probably next year'.