Businesses in Hong Kong will get more money and access to extra overseas markets under a programme intended to boost their reach and counter the negative impact of the US-China trade war, the government announced in Wednesday’s budget. Officials will pump HK$1 billion (US$127.4 million) into an existing matching fund – the Dedicated Fund on Branding, Upgrading and Domestic Sales (BUD fund) – to subsidise companies boosting their brands and upgrading their products for sale abroad. This will take the fresh funding for the programme to HK$3.5 billion since last August, when the trade war worsened. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah said the boost would sow the seeds of future growth. “Hong Kong has to get prepared and cannot wait for sheer luck,” he said on Wednesday. Hong Kong budget: six key takeaways from Paul Chan’s speech The plan, unveiled by Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po at the Legislative Council, will cover 10 additional economies with which Hong Kong has free-trade deals, including Australia, New Zealand and Chile, bringing the total number of markets covered to 21. Previously the programme only included mainland China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Each company could get up to HK$3 million from the pool — a boost from the existing cap of HK$2 million. Of that, they can use up to HK$1 million for developing mainland business, and HK$2 million on the other designated markets. For an individual project, the government would only cover a maximum of 50 per cent of the total approved cost, while the applicant would pay the rest. The companies will usually have to pay for the project before claiming the cash later. The offer is open to non-listed companies registered in the city, with “substantive business operations in Hong Kong”. In his budget speech, Chan said recent changes in global economic and trade environment had affected local businesses, particularly importers and exporters, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Government sources said the concerted effort was to help businesses boost exports against the backdrop of the trade dispute between the world’s two biggest economies. They hoped the changes could help firms get more orders and diversify their markets by expanding to other overseas economies. The Chinese General Chamber of Commerce welcomed the move, saying it could help industry diversify its markets. It hoped the government would proactively expand its free-trade network, particularly in areas under Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, to help businesses seize other opportunities. But to James Lee, CEO at Easy Global Mall International, an e-commerce platform which helps smaller local businesses export goods to India, the cash boost was bad news. Lee said he was neglected under the scheme because his business focuses in India and Pakistan, which do not have free-trade agreements with Hong Kong. He hoped the fund could cover these developing economies. He said: “People there are starting to gain economic power. Shouldn’t [the fund] help us to export more to them and cover them as well?” According to the Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association, Lee was not alone, with a lot of SMEs exploring the Indian market. Using the BUD fund mainly requires you to develop something. But it will take about half a year ... If there is no business, then companies will die in half a year Eva Leung, Winsonic Electric Its president Pam Mak hoped the government could let businesses apply to the fund wherever they expand their markets, to provide greater flexibility. Mak said officials should also consider increasing the subsidy on each project from 50 per cent to 70 per cent, to shoulder more of the burden. But Eva Leung Fung-wah, director at Winsonic Electric, said the measure could not address SMEs’ urgent needs. Leung’s company owned a factory in Dongguan, Guangdong province, and was affected by the trade war. “Using the BUD fund mainly requires you to develop something. But it will take about half a year ... If there is no business, then companies will die in half a year,” she said. “We have paid tax every year and our business has worsened a lot. Couldn’t you give us a tax refund and give us the money and we can use it freely? It’s better than asking us to file applications,” she said.