Rule of law and English language are key assets for Hong Kong to win British business in wake of Brexit, says trade chief

Britain’s vote to leave EU means more small and medium-sized enterprises will look to Asia, says Margaret Fong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 7:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 7:01am

Hong Kong businesses and officials need to seize the opportunities created by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, according to Trade Development Council executive director Margaret Fong Shun-man.

Speaking on the sidelines of a trade symposium organised by the TDC in London last week, Fong said she believed both Britain and the EU will continue to grow in importance as trade partners to Hong Kong and that following last year’s Brexit vote, more small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) would turn to Asia.

Top officials including Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and British Minister of State for Trade and Investment Greg Hands joined the trade symposium on Thursday.

The EU was one of Hong Kong’s largest trading partners last year, with total trade worth about HK$648.7 billion or 7.9 per cent of the city’s global total.

In terms of individual economies, Germany and Britain were Hong Kong’s 11th and 12th largest trading partners.

After Britain voted to leave the EU, there were worries that the country’s influence in global trade would decline. But Fong saw opportunities for Hong Kong.

The former trade official said from 2015 to last year, the number of British companies with offices or regional headquarters in Hong Kong had increased by 4 per cent to about 600. She believed Brexit may cause that number to continue to rise.

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“Lots of large British companies have been in Asia for a long time ... but some SMEs were so small they only traded with Europe in the past as they were familiar with it,” Fong said.

“According to our own opinion poll, many of them would consider Asia in the future as it has been relatively stable and developing rapidly. They are very interested in the mainland Chinese market.”

Fong said in light of this trend, the council and the government needed to remind British businesses that Hong Kong, with its common law system and the popular usage of the English language, is the place to start and seek trading partners “outside their comfort zone”.

Fong added that she was impressed by British businesses’ interest in Hong Kong as more than 2,000 people signed up to join the council’s symposium in London on Thursday, and more than 30 per cent were not in contact with the council before.

The government needs to remind British businesses that Hong Kong, with its common law system and English language, is the place to start and seek trading partners
Margaret Fong

Asked if the council and the government would be doing more to attract British companies, Fong said: “It is good for the world’s best talents, products and services to converge in Hong Kong ... but we also need to make sure that foreign companies can cooperate with local ones, and not just to compete with them.

“The EU will continue to be important to us too ... it’s not a zero-sum game, both markets will grow together,” she added.

Fong was speaking a day after Carrie Lam strongly defended the city’s judicial independence before top officials and business leaders in London, lashing out at “disrespectful” and “disturbing” remarks by British politicians who objected to the jailing of three pro-democracy Hong Kong activists, including Joshua Wong Chi-fung, last month.

Fong said Lam’s strong words showed that rule of law and judicial independence had been the cornerstone of the city’s success in international trade,

“Whenever one or two [politicians] questioned it, the government feels the need to reaffirm that our judicial system remains credible,” Fong said.