Hong Kong needs to unlock the potential of the sharing economy, or risk falling behind

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 4:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 9:31pm

Anyone visiting Hong Kong knows it’s vibrant and culturally rich. But there are signs it needs to do more to attract the kind of innovative industries that will power its economy going forward.

The city’s ranking in the Global Innovation Index has fallen in the last two years. And this slide has been accompanied by another trend: the rise of China in the table.

We can see this in the differing attitudes of Hong Kong and China to the sharing economy. China leads the way in peer-to-peer lending, accommodation and transport sectors, which benefit consumers and spur economic growth.

With more than 600 million people in China participating in the sharing economy, it’s expected that it will account for 10 per cent of China’s gross domestic product by 2020, according to their State Information Centre.

In March 2016, Premier Li Keqiang praised the sharing economy sector, citing the way it can energise the economy as a whole because of its ability to optimise the use of idle resources.

Take ride-sharing, for example. China has embraced the use of apps to connect drivers with vehicles. It’s a different story in Hong Kong – drivers continue to face criminal penalties for using their cars for giving someone else a ride.

In a recent survey commissioned by the Sharing Economy Alliance, 70 per cent of respondents in Hong Kong said the government was overly protective of vested interests when it came to promoting the sharing economy.

It rated Hong Kong as the lowest in terms of innovation and technology, trailing not only global leaders Singapore and Seoul, but also neighbouring Shenzhen and Taipei.

The good news is that simple updates to laws could see ride-sharing and other key sectors of the sharing economy formally recognised in Hong Kong.

When Chief Executive Carrie Lam announces her maiden policy address today, we hope she considers measures to unlock the potential of the sharing economy to ensure the growth of creative and innovative start-ups in the city.

Uber drivers and riders will certainly be ready to support and help in any way we can.

It’s worth remembering the State Council order in 2016 on the sharing economy, which called for innovative regulation of the sector. If Hong Kong fails to do that, it risks falling behind its neighbours.

Damian Kassabgi, director of public policy, Asia Pacific, Uber