Hong Kong residents heading to Macau should soon be able to do away with paper arrival cards and clear immigration using e-channels. Automatic immigration channels in Hong Kong, meanwhile, would be opened up to permanent Macau residents, who would also be exempted from declaration forms. The measures are expected to be implemented from the second half of next year after relevant legislation. In announcing the changes yesterday, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said easy immigration services were 'essential to maintain Hong Kong as a tourism, financial, business and trading centre in the region'. He also said Hong Kong would seek to establish closer economic ties with Taiwan. Visitors from the island holding iPermits - visas obtained through the internet - or those with multiple-entry permits would see their stays extended from 14 to 30 days. The government would set up an inter-departmental steering committee, headed by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, to work for closer co-operation with Taiwan. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council, meanwhile, would see its new office at Taipei beginning operations soon. The initiatives were welcomed by Taiwan's top representative in Hong Kong. Jeff Yang Jia-jiunn, managing director of Chung Hwa Travel Service, described the relaxation of rules as a 'friendly move extended to all Taiwanese people'. He estimated that the number of visitors to Hong Kong would increase 20 per cent next year and would benefit business travellers. 'Some businessmen find 14 days insufficient for their trips. They may detour to Macau or Shenzhen in order to come back after 14 days. The new measure will make it more convenient.' The Ma Ying-jeou administration in Taiwan has proposed waiving visa requirements for Hongkongers visiting the island. Although Mr Tsang did not pledge a reciprocal arrangement, Mr Yang said Tawian would still go ahead. The government also said it was concluding a mutual visa-free access agreement with Russia.