Forecast for trade growth lowered

HONG KONG'S trade growth will be dragged down by China's economic slowdown and the economic difficulties in Europe and the United States, says a top trade official.

Overall trade growth would be about 12 per cent this year, slightly less than the anticipated 14 per cent, said Director-General of Trade Tony Miller at the opening of a trade fair yesterday.

'For the first half of this year, European markets were 'fat' in those products of interest to us, and similarly the US,' he said.

However, some areas of business had been growing rapidly. For example, the re-export of office equipment to Southeast Asia.

Mr Miller also said that he hoped China's bid for re-entry to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) would be accepted as soon as possible.

'I cannot say I am optimistic that everything will be worked out by January 1. I hope it will be, but time is getting very short. I think a lot will depend on what happens in the next month or so,' he said.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) will succeed GATT on January 1. A meeting will be held between the various contracting parties of GATT on December 8 to discuss the final details of the institutional arrangements for WTO.

Mr Miller said three major players in GATT - Japan, the European Union and the US - had not completed their individual ratification processes.

He said the EU's new Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) would not have any effect on the competitiveness of Hong Kong for the next three years.

There were disagreements in Europe over whether the GSP should be based on countries, products or the level of development.

The new plan would phase out tariff privileges on goods from more developed Asian areas, such as Hong Kong.

There is a three-year adjustment period for affected countries.

The 10th Hong Kong International Footwear Fair and the 9th Hong Kong International Handbags and Leather Goods Fair started yesterday and will run until Sunday at both the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and the China Resources Exhibition Centre.

Seven hundred exhibitors from Hong Kong and 25 countries are participating in the fairs.