HK to deepen ASEAN ties with trade deal

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By SO­PHIE HE in Sin­ga­pore so­phiehe@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

Hong Kong will deepen ties with the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) as de­tails of a free trade agree­ment (FTA) between the two are “soon to be con­cluded”, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Car­rie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Wed­nes­day dur­ing the first day of her visit to Sin­ga­pore.

The four-day trip — to Sin­ga­pore and Thai­land — is Lam’s first over­seas visit af­ter as­sum­ing of­fice as CE.

Lam ex­pressed her grat­i­tude to both coun­tries for ef­forts in pro­mot­ing Hong Kong-ASEAN ties. She said she chose Singa- pore and Thai­land as they are both very im­por­tant ASEAN mem­bers and also Hong Kong’s largest and sec­ond-largest trade part­ners among ASEAN coun­tries.

The FTA is ex­pected to be con­cluded be­fore the end of this year, ac­cord­ing to Lam.

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial statis­tics, ASEAN is Hong Kong’s sec­ond-largest goods trade part­ner, fol­low­ing the Chi­nese main­land.

The FTA will bring mu­tual ben­e­fits to all busi­nesses and pro­fes­sion­als in the 10 ASEAN coun­tries as well as in Hong Kong, par­tic­u­larly against the back­drop of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive and de­vel­op­ment of Guang­dong-Hong Kong-Ma­cao Greater Bay Area, she added.

In the de­mand­ing and glob­al­ized business en­vi­ron­ment, if Hong Kong wants to stay com­pet­i­tive the city has to be more proac­tive, Lam said.

“I have ad­vo­cated that the gov­ern­ment will adopt new roles, in ad­di­tion to just be­ing a provider of pub­lic ser­vices and reg­u­la­tor, I want my gov­ern­ment to also be a fa­cil­i­ta­tor and pro­moter,” Lam stressed.

That will re­quire enor­mous work, in­clud­ing pro­mot­ing gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment re­la­tion­ships, just like such vis­its and FTA deals with re­spec­tive economies, she ex­plained.

Hong Kong is also ready to adopt a more proac­tive fis­cal pol­icy, in­vest­ing more in ed­u­ca­tion, over­seas pro­mo­tions and pro­vid­ing more tax in­cen­tives, Lam stressed.

Hong Kong needs to pro­vide busi­nesses with more in­cen­tives to in­vest in re­search and de­vel­op­ment, she said.

Lam landed in Sin­ga­pore on Wed­nes­day after­noon. Af­ter pay­ing a cour­tesy visit to the Chi­nese em­bassy in Sin­ga­pore, she at­tended the open­ing cer­e­mony of a photo ex­hi­bi­tion.

Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Car­rie Lam Cheng Yuet­ngor on Wed­nes­day left for Sin­ga­pore on a three-day jour­ney that also in­cludes a stop in Thai­land — the first over­seas trip in her ca­pac­ity as head of the Hong Kong Special Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion and its gov­ern­ment since tak­ing of­fice on July 1. This is a very im­por­tant trip for Hong Kong as both Sin­ga­pore and Thai­land are long-time trad­ing part­ners and in­flu­en­tial mem­bers of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) that hap­pen to hold key strate­gic lo­ca­tions on the 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road, part of the Belt and Road (B&R) Ini­tia­tive.

Hong Kong, in ad­di­tion to its own close eco­nomic and trade links to ASEAN mem­ber states, has played a sig­nif­i­cant role for many years in fa­cil­i­tat­ing and serv­ing eco­nomic and trade ties between ASEAN na­tions and the Chi­nese main­land. With the promis­ing progress of the B&R Ini­tia­tive con­tin­u­ing to at­tract coun­tries and re­gions else­where around the world Hong Kong stands to profit from nu­mer­ous op­por­tu­ni­ties to offer pro­fes­sional ser­vices as well as in­vest­ment to any and every mar­ket along the re­ju­ve­nated an­cient trad­ing route known as the Mar­itime Silk Road, which went from the main­land port cities of Quanzhou and Guangzhou to Africa for cen­turies.

In the 21st cen­tury the an­cient mar­itime trad­ing route will be even more pro­duc­tive thanks to the B&R Ini­tia­tive, which will ex­tend it fur­ther to the Ara­bian Penin­sula and Mediter­ranean coasts and even Nordic coun­tries. For Hong Kong there prob­a­bly is no bet­ter time to “rein­vent” it­self, by tak­ing full ad­van­tage of the epic ini­tia­tive and speed­ing up the struc­tural trans­for­ma­tion of its econ­omy. This in­cludes a high-tech in­dus­try and knowl­edge-driven mod­ern ser­vices sec­tor.

We are pleased to note that Lam will visit GovTech Hive, an in­no­va­tion lab for dig­i­tal ser­vices, as well as the Sin­ga­pore Ur­ban Re­de­vel­op­ment Author­ity and the Civil Ser­vice Col­lege af­ter a meet­ing with se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials of the host coun­try. She will then meet se­nior Thai gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and business lead­ers, and those from other ASEAN coun­tries. She will also dis­cuss col­lab­o­ra­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties with cre­ative in­dus­tries. All th­ese dis­cus­sions will no doubt pave the way for more ex­changes and co­op­er­a­tion between Hong Kong and ASEAN na­tions.

Hong Kong is al­ready a found­ing mem­ber of the Asia In­fras­truc­ture In­vest­ment Bank (AIIB), which is widely con­sid­ered the main lo­co­mo­tive of the B&R Ini­tia­tive. Hong Kong is well-po­si­tioned and equipped to lend its rich ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­per­tise in in­ter­na­tional fi­nance. This in­cludes le­gal coun­sel and ar­bi­tra­tion ser­vices for in­fras­truc­ture de­vel­op­ment projects de­signed to fa­cil­i­tate the B&R-pow­ered global re­cov­ery and all-round de­vel­op­ment that may very well bring about a re­nais­sance on an in­ter­na­tional scale. Bet­ter trade ties with ASEAN coun­tries will give Hong Kong an­other ad­van­tage to wield on its un­matched role in the de­vel­op­ment of the Guang­dong-Hong Kong-Ma­cao Greater Bay Area city clus­ter.

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