Europeans fail to tap region, says TDC head

EUROPEAN companies have consistently failed to fully exploit the commercial advantages of investing in China and the region, Victor Fung Kwok-king, chairman of the Trade Development Council, has told a meeting of leading European industrialists.

Mr Fung, who was addressing the European Commission Interactive Forum, said most Asian countries would welcome European companies becoming involved in the region's growth through direct investment.

In the past 14 years, the total investment of Britain, Germany and France in China accounted for about US$5.4 billion, or 2.8 per cent, of the total.

This compares with $148 billion, or 62 per cent, from Hong Kong investors and $18.4 billion, or eight per cent, from Taiwan.

Mr Fung said: 'Companies not participating in the Asia-Pacific region are likely to miss some of the clearest growth opportunities of the decade ahead, damaging their competitiveness worldwide into the 21st century.

'Growth rates have been consistently higher than those in Europe or North America; the economies of the region are becoming increasingly significant consumer markets as personal incomes rise to - and in some cases beyond - income levels in Europe; and traditional dependence on the export markets of Europe and the United States has steadily fallen as intra-regional trade has grown.' Mr Fung has spent the past week in Europe for a round of top-level meetings with senior bankers and industrialists including the Group of 30, a banking think-tank, and Peter Sutherland, the director-general of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Mr Fung, a strong advocate of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum, said regional protectionism was on the decline while cross-border manufacturing was rising.

Expenditure on infrastructure in Asia over the next six years is estimated at $1 trillion.

'While Europe has been a spectator to the development of APEC, and plays a less prominent role in the region than many of us in Asia would like, the APEC grouping is not being steered in the direction of a trade bloc,' Mr Fung said.

'On the contrary, the vision is of a region that not only remains open to all, but steadily cuts its existing trade and investment barriers to partners both inside and outside the region,' he said.

'It is critically important that Europe responds to this initiative in a way that gives the liberalising forces within APEC the ammunition to continue on the course of 'open regionalism'.

'This involves recognising that we are not playing a zero-sum game. Both sides need to signal to each other that policies will not be played as zero-sum games.'