Following is a question by the Hon Lo Wai-kwok and a reply by the Acting Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Dr Bernard Chan, in the Legislative Council:
On the 3rd of last month, the Government held, in collaboration with the Belt and Road General Chamber of Commerce (BRGCC), a seminar in Beijing, which aimed to promote to the Mainland ministries and state-owned enterprises ways to make use of Hong Kong's highly internationalised platform and Hong Kong's distinctive edge in areas such as finance, professional services, commerce and trade, for forming strategic partnerships to jointly pursue the opportunities being brought about by the Belt and Road Initiative. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) as BRGCC intends to establish a database on Chinese-funded investments in the countries and regions along the Belt and Road so as to help enterprises explore opportunities for investment or development, whether the Government will provide support to BRGCC in this regard; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) given that the existing 70-odd countries and regions along the Belt and Road have different legal and tax regimes as well as investment environment, whether the Government will consider strengthening its collaboration with the academic institutions in Hong Kong and on the Mainland to provide the government officials and the persons-in-charge of enterprises who are involved in Belt and Road-related work with information on aspects such as law, finance, maritime, management and professional services in such countries and regions; and
(3) as quite a number of Hong Kong businessmen who had once invested in the countries and regions along the Belt and Road had nowhere to turn to for assistance after commercial disputes with local people had arisen, whether the Government will set up a dedicated channel to provide assistance for those Hong Kong businessmen who are caught in such situations; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The Belt and Road Initiative (B&RI) is a new engine for Hong Kong's economic growth. The current term Government has been proactively implementing policies and measures to seize the opportunities brought by the B&RI. According to the "Arrangement between the National Development and Reform Commission and the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for Advancing Hong Kong's Full Participation in and Contribution to the Belt and Road Initiative" (the Arrangement) signed in December 2017, we will enhance communication and co-operation with the Central Authorities, and take forward the various areas of work in the Arrangement, which include promoting strategic partnership between Hong Kong and Mainland enterprises. In February this year, the Government organised a large-scale seminar under the theme of "Leveraging Hong Kong’s Advantages, Meeting the Country's Needs" in conjunction with the Belt and Road General Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, which sought to facilitate establishment of direct contact between enterprises and professionals in the Mainland and Hong Kong. The seminar had been a success.
Replies to the various parts of the Hon Lo Wai-kwok's questions are as follows:
(1) As a focus of work in promoting participation in the B&RI, the Government has been seeking collaboration with relevant enterprises/professional associations and chambers of commerce through various means with a view to exploring B&RI business opportunities for companies and professional services sectors of Hong Kong. Such includes co-organising conferences and seminars, and visits to the Mainland and Belt and Road related regions to promote the advantages of Hong Kong. The above-mentioned seminar staged in Beijing is one of the examples. In addition, the Government has co-organised with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) the annual Belt and Road Summit, and supported HKTDC’s work in B&RI related investment and business matching. This year’s focus will be about “Collaborate for Success” to highlight the importance of wider, deeper and closer collaboration among governments and businesses for successful implementation of Belt and Road projects.
Besides, the Government has put in place a number of funding schemes which may support enterprises and organisations in taking forward work related to the B&RI. The Professional Services Advancement Support Scheme launched by the Government in November 2016 provides funding support for the implementation of industry-led non-profit-making projects which aim to increase the exchanges and co-operation of Hong Kong’s professional services with their counterparts in external markets (including Belt and Road related regions), promote relevant publicity activities, and enhance their standards and external competitiveness. The SME Export Marketing Fund (EMF) and the SME Development Fund which are being administered by the Trade and Industry Department provide financial assistance to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) respectively to expand their markets outside Hong Kong including in the Belt and Road, and enhance trade competitiveness.
Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are important Belt and Road partners. In November last year, the Government signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and a related Investment Agreement with ASEAN, which is an important Belt and Road market of Hong Kong. To further strengthen industry support, the Government has proposed in this year’s Budget to increase the cumulative funding ceiling for enterprises under EMF from $200,000 to $400,000, and remove the existing condition on the use of the last $50,000 of grants. At the same time, it is proposed that $1.5 billion be injected into Dedicated Fund on Branding, Upgrading and Domestic Sales (BUD Fund) and that the geographical scope of the Enterprise Support Programme under the BUD Fund be extended from the Mainland to also include the B&RI related ASEAN region.
(2) To provide the industry with latest information on the B&RI, the Government is collaborating with HKTDC to enhance the function of its Belt and Road portal with a view to making it a one-stop platform for the latest and most comprehensive information on the B&RI. At the same time, HKTDC is looking into the possibility of offering online and offline business matching services to assist enterprises in identifying suitable Belt and Road projects.
Such activities as fora, conferences, seminars, roadshows and missions are organised by Government bureaux and departments, quasi-government bodies, academic institutions, chambers of commerce, and professional associations, etc., from time to time to provide stakeholders with the latest information on the B&RI. The Government also led trade and promotional missions to countries and regions along and related to Belt and Road. For instance, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development just from March 19 to 23 led a business and professional mission to visit Cambodia and Vietnam, and met with local government officials responsible for commerce and industry, investment and infrastructure development. The delegation not only gained better understanding of the latest local market situation, but also fostered connection and co-operation between Hong Kong enterprises and professional associations with local enterprises thereof.
In terms of training, many professional associations and organisations in Hong Kong, such as the MTR Academy, the Hong Kong International Aviation Academy, and the Hong Kong Academy of Law, etc., have been providing professional training in areas of legal, mediation, railway management and operation, aviation management, etc., for nurturing local talents and in the Belt and Road related regions. Such efforts not only help enhance their professionalism, but also raise the international status of Hong Kong's professional services.
(3) One of the underlying principles in pursuing the B&RI is to follow the market rule, with allocation of resources to be decided by the market. While enterprises would seek reasonable returns on their investment, the associated risks should also be prudently managed. The primary function of the Government is on trade and investment promotion and protection.
When Hong Kong enterprises encounter difficulties in conducting business activities outside Hong Kong, assistance may be sought from our overseas Economic and Trade Offices (ETOs), which will make their best endeavour to provide assistance on the basis of each case. Generally, the ETOs would not intervene in private commercial disputes. We have currently set up 12 overseas ETOs which cover a good number of countries and regions along the Belt and Road, and we will further expand our overseas ETOs network. HKTDC also has 47 offices globally, which will also refer requests for assistance from Hong Kong SMEs to appropriate authorities for following up. As well, the Government has been actively strengthening economic and trade ties with the economies along the Belt and Road, by promoting mutual visits of senior officials, and forging bilateral agreements such as FTAs and Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements with a view to providing investment protection for Hong Kong enterprises.