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Paul Chan

US-China trade war would affect one in five Hong Kong jobs, finance secretary says

‘No winner’ would emerge, he adds, noting pillar sector employs some 730,000 people

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 April, 2018, 9:45pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 April, 2018, 9:56pm

A trade war between the US and China would affect one in five Hong Kong jobs, the city’s financial secretary warned on Sunday.

Paul Chan Mo-po said the world’s two biggest economies were major economic partners of the city and that a dispute between them would certainly be felt locally.

Writing on his official blog on Sunday, Chan expressed worry over rising American protectionism, citing new tariffs on US imports of solar panels and washing machines in January, and the imposition of a 25 per cent tariff on steel and 10 per cent tariff on aluminium last month.

Beijing has strongly criticised the moves and spoken of “a justified and necessary response”.

Describing Hong Kong as “a highly open and small economy,” Chan wrote: “Free trade is an important foundation of our success. The total value of traded goods and services was about 375 per cent of our gross domestic product. Trading and logistics is a pillar industry of Hong Kong, contributing to some 22 per cent of GDP and employing some 730,000 people. Roughly one-fifth of our labour force work in the sector.”

A trade war would yield “no winner,” he added.

China will ‘fight to the end’ if US doesn’t stop trade war

The city is an important entrepôt for Beijing. According to national customs data, Hong Kong was the mainland’s third-largest trading partner after the US and Japan, accounting for 7 per cent of its total trade last year.

The US, meanwhile, is Hong Kong’s second-largest export market, trailing only the mainland. The city’s total exports to America amounted to US$34.8 billion in the first 10 months of 2017. And the US is Hong Kong’s sixth-largest source of imports.

But Chan on Sunday voiced cautious optimism about the city’s economic outlook this year, predicting GDP to grow between 3 and 4 per cent. This estimate was consistent with his forecast in February when he delivered the annual budget.

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Joe Chau Kwok-ming, president of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Small and Medium Business, believed Hong Kong could be spared serious damage in a trade war in the short run.

“But if it lingered and escalated, the city would unavoidably be affected,” he said. “US firms would probably ask their Hong Kong business partners to absorb part of the impact of increased costs.”

“We appreciate that there is not much Hong Kong could do in a trade war, being sandwiched between the world’s two biggest economies,” he added. “But our officials could discuss policies with the mainland to minimise the impact on the city.”