SAR needs to do more to lift star­tups

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS HK -

It’s hard for Hong Kong peo­ple not to be en­vi­ous of a Sin­ga­pore­based startup that was re­ported to have suc­cess­fully taken on Uber to be­come the dom­i­nant player in ride­hail­ing ser­vices in the South­east Asian mar­ket of more than 600 mil­lion peo­ple.

T h e c o m p a n y, G r a b , started out in the Lion City and grad­u­ally ex­panded in the re­gion with a 95 -per­cent share in third-par ty taxi hail­ing and 71 per­cent in pri­vate-ve­hi­cle hail­ing , ac­cord­ing to a Hong Kong media report. Its in­vestors in­clude Chi­nese main­land ride-hail­ing ser­vice provider Didi Chux­ing and Ja­pan’s SoftBank.

The report said Grab plans to raise up to $2.5 bil­lion in ad­di­tional cap­i­tal to help se­cure its lead in the South­east Asian ride-hail­ing mar­ket and ex­pand into other e-com­merce busi­nesses.

Think about this. If Grab were a Hong Kong en­ter­prise, it would have been bogged down, like in Uber’s case, by bu­reau­cratic med- dling that’s se­ri­ous enough to put off po­ten­tial in­vestors.

Uber has proved there’s grow­ing de­mand in Hong Kong for its ser vice. But, the US com­pany has been ac­cused of fail­ing to comp l y w i t h t h e c i t y ’s r u l e s that ef­fec­tively al­low only li­censed taxis to carry fare pay­ing pas­sen­gers.

The ques­tion is why is it that such a ser­vice can thrive in many other cities, in­clud­ing Sin­ga­pore and Shang­hai, and not in the SAR? This has led many peo­ple to sus­pect that the Hong Kong govern­ment is tr ying to pro­tect the vested in­ter­ests of taxi own­ers de­spite wide­spread com­plaints about their sub­stan­dard ser­vices.

In so do­ing, the govern­ment is seen to have con­tra­dicted its stated pol­icy of nur­tur­ing tech star­tups to catch up with re­gional ri­vals, in­clud­ing Sin­ga­pore. Huge pub­lic in­vest­ments and other re­sources poured into star­tups have pro­duced lit­tle sig­nif­i­cant re­sults so far.

Hong Kong has re­mained a back­wa­ter in e-com­merce in the re­gion. On­line re­tail, for in­stance, has failed to catch on in this mar­ket. Ama­zon is al­most ev­ery­where. But the US on­line re­tail gi­ant has given Hong Kong a pass.

It has al­ways been said the lo­cal mar­ket is too small to serve as a test­ing ground for star­tups. But, Sin­ga­pore is even smaller and yet it’s host­ing the likes of Grab. Perhaps, the Hong Kong govern­ment should look be­yond fi­nan­cial re­sources and ex­am­ine if changes in the reg­u­la­tor y frame­work and tax sys­tem are needed to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment for star­tups to thrive.


With re­gional ri­vals rid­ing high in e-com­merce, Hong Kong tech star­tups de­serve all the help and en­cour­age­ment from the govern­ment to help them make the grade.

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