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Hong Kong shipping and logistics

How infrastructure spending and maritime services can help keep Hong Kong afloat

Holden Chow says while the city is not likely to be spared downturn risks amid global uncertainty, a greater emphasis on infrastructure projects and expert maritime services could help see it through

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 12:57pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 7:56pm

Many analysts have a bleak outlook for the global economy, at least in the short term. And Hong Kong, despite being an international financial centre with support from the central government, would not be spared the risks of a downturn.

But what worries me is the domestic political conflict causing delays in government expenditure processing by the legislature. Many major infrastructure projects are widely demonised as “white elephants”, with the opposition bound to rail against the alleged waste of taxpayers’ money. The examples are many: the third runway, the high-speed rail link, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.

Infrastructure is the pillar of an economy, particularly during a recession. It creates jobs and domestic demand. Even US President Donald Trump has vowed to boost infrastructure-building. If our general sentiment against infrastructure persists, and we fail to develop new projects, it may deal a blow to our economy in the long run.

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Also, there is plenty of room for developing new industry: take maritime services. Maritime business representatives I met have been calling for additional resources for the HK$100 million Maritime and Aviation Training Fund, to create more skilled labour. This year’s budget has not made particular provisions in this regard.

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The UK leads with its thriving maritime business, as a one-stop shop for legal, arbitration, insurance, shipbroking and financial services, while Singapore is keen to compete for the top spot in the region. Hong Kong, with its rule of law, strength in professional services and the backing of Beijing, certainly has the potential to secure a strong position.

The Hong Kong Shipping Register is now among the top four in the world: by the end of 2016, ships accounting for nearly 104 million gross tonnes were registered here. They choose to fly our flag because of the quality of our maritime services. But we should do more to enhance our competitiveness.

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Marshall Islands, a tiny jurisdiction, has been very successful in attracting ships from across the globe to fly its flag and is now among the most popular shipping registers. With branch offices around the world, it has a long-established reputation of offering “round the clock” services.

The Hong Kong Marine Department has served the industry well and has generally earned the support of the maritime services sector. However, the inadequate supply of skilled labour would certainly hinder the development of the industry.

Boosting the supply of workers with the right expertise is thus one of the major tasks the government needs to work on.

Holden Chow is a legislative councillor with the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong