Money is now moving the other way through Hong Kong AFTER 20 YEARS of driving foreign investment into the mainland, Hong Kong is now finding itself as the primary conduit for money coming back out. A 2002 report by the Census and Statistics Department showed Hong Kong's total stock of inward direct investment was estimated at US$335.6 billion at the end of that year. The mainland was the most important source of direct investment in Hong Kong (accounting for 22.6 per cent of the total). An economic report by the Trade Development Council showed that while Hong Kong is an ideal platform to facilitate the modernisation and internationalisation of mainland enterprises in almost every aspect, its financial services are of special significance. Pansy Yau, assistant chief economist for the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, says the number of mainland companies registered in Hong Kong is very conservatively estimated at 2,000, with assets in excess of US$220 billion. Both the central and Hong Kong governments are keen on facilitating mainland enterprises to invest and operate in Hong Kong. The Ministry of Commerce, together with the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, recently introduced a new relaxed regulation for mainland enterprises to invest and set up in Hong Kong. It was implemented on August 31, streamlining the application procedure by handing over most outward approval duties to provincial authorities. Fred Lam Tin-fuk, executive director of the Trade Development Council, says this will not only attract new investment, but will also bring a new breed of entrepreneurs and industries to Hong Kong. According to the report by the Census and Statistics Department, a total of 3,609 overseas companies had regional operations in Hong Kong as at June 1. This figure comprised 1,098 regional headquarters and 2,511 regional offices, among which 106 regional headquarters and 156 regional offices were set up by mainland parent companies. The Trade Development Council conducted a survey in Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces in 2002, which showed that mainland enterprises considered no other city - either on the mainland or elsewhere in the Asia region - as a competitor to Hong Kong as an international commercial and financial centre. 'It's true that other cities may catch up, say Shanghai,' Ms Yau says, 'but Hong Kong is improving to provide better services at the same time. 'We will enhance our role as a springboard for aminland companies to enter the world.'