Hong Kong has a vital role to play as a bridge between British businesses and booming markets in the mainland THE LONG-ESTABLISHED business relationship between Hong Kong and Britain is as healthy now as it has ever been, according to the leading representative of UK business interests in the territory. 'The reasons the British came to Hong Kong are as relevant today as they were 150 years ago - to trade with China,' said Christopher Hammerbeck, executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. 'The principal reason why many of our members are here today is to use Hong Kong as a platform to conduct trade with China. 'That hasn't changed, but trade has become much more diverse.' While many had expected the pervasive British business presence in Hong Kong to evaporate after the 1997 handover, the British presence has, in fact, remained virtually intact, Mr Hammerbeck said. 'The reality is that nobody went,' he said. In fact, a new and more positive relationship has developed between the countries, fuelled by growing awareness among UK companies of the importance of China in sustaining their businesses, he said. Last year the British Chamber, along with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the British Consulate in Hong Kong and Invest Hong Kong, organised a major road show in the UK. The Hong Kong representatives reached more than 1,000 mostly small and medium-sized British companies, helping them to identify their needs. 'Small to medium-sized enterprises are increasingly waking up to the fact that unless they source products from China, they are going to be out of business,' Mr Hammerbeck said. 'Hong Kong has a tremendously important role to play here as an honest broker and risk manager. This is becoming a real growth target for Hong Kong.' The British Chamber of Commerce has seen a flurry of activity over the past year. Since April 1 alone, five new companies have joined the chamber, according to Mr Hammerbeck. 'We are in the middle of a very strong growth phase of new companies joining the chamber. We are running way ahead of targets and seeing growth in overseas companies that are becoming members,' he said. He added that the surge of UK business to Hong Kong was also bringing a new range of non-traditional companies to the region. 'The business community is refreshed, lively and constantly bringing new ideas. 'These are hi-tech, imaginative companies, not just in the traditional, well-established areas of business.' Among the new companies seeking entry into Hong Kong is the UK-based company Acolyte Biomedica, a leader in developing cutting-edge diagnostic systems for clinical microbiology. With a legal system and financial framework that mirror those in the UK, Hong Kong is an ideal springboard for British businesses seeking to expand into the region. 'Hong Kong's financial services centre is a replica of the City of London's,' Mr Hammerbeck said. At the same time, the UK is an important market for companies in Hong Kong and on the mainland. 'The UK is one of the most successful economies in the G7 and therefore a target for China.' The symbiotic relationship between the two countries was greatly appreciated by both major economies, he added. Consul-General Stephen Bradley said: 'For the UK, Hong Kong is a shining example of several important things: the principles of free trade and open markets, as well as social and personal freedoms, which we believe in and fight for, and in another sense a success story in our relationship with China, a relationship that is thriving and becoming rapidly more substantial and vital to us.'