All-round strat­egy needed to con­sol­i­date ship­ping cen­ter sta­tus

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - Ed­ward Liu The au­thor is a se­nior as­so­ciate at Reed Smith Richards But­ler and vice-pres­i­dent of Hong Kong and Main­land Le­gal Pro­fes­sion As­so­ci­a­tion.

In her maiden Pol­icy Ad­dress last month Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Car­rie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor set out 251 new poli­cies. She did not ad­dress the ship­ping in­dus­try in great length. But the pol­icy plan did spec­ify Hong Kong’s po­si­tion as an “international mar­itime cen­ter” and a “di­ver­si­fied” one; it also out­lined the com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy to bol­ster and pro­mote the de­vel­op­ment of Hong Kong’s mar­itime in­dus­try and high value added mar­itime ser­vices.

Re­veal­ing its short-term goal, the gov­ern­ment vowed to at­tract over­seas mar­itime en­ter­prises to build their pres­ence in Hong Kong. One of the mile­stone suc­cesses in this re­gard was the sign­ing of a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with the Lon­don Mar­itime Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion in Septem­ber this year. The agree­ment aims to fur­ther strengthen col­lab­o­ra­tion in pro­mot­ing high value added mar­itime ser­vices and train­ing of mar­itime prac­ti­tion­ers. Trade fa­cil­i­ta­tion mea­sures, in­clud­ing strength­en­ing the city’s ship­ping reg­is­ter ser­vices, were also listed.

The most im­por­tant touch was en­sur­ing the Hong Kong Mar­itime and Port Board, an of­fi­cial con­sul­ta­tive or­ga­ni­za­tion es­tab­lished last year, will ac­tively work with the ship­ping in­dus­try to for­mu­late a “com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy”, es­tab­lish­ing the cru­cial role of the gov­ern­ment in the fu­ture de­vel­op­ment of lo­cal ship­ping in­dus­try.

In all fair­ness, de­spite the board fall­ing short of in­dus­try ex­pec­ta­tions, it has man­aged to speak and act for the ship­ping in­dus­try in the past year.

As the first Hong Kong Mar­itime Week took place last November, the voices of Hong Kong ship­ping and port in­dus­try were heard again in the city, across the coun­try and on the international stage. The sec­ond Mar­itime Week will take place this month. The board cer­tainly de­serves credit for in­creas­ing the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants, of coun­tries they rep­re­sent and the event scale. In ad­di­tion, the Hong Kong Mar­itime and Port Board should also be ap­pre­ci­ated for fa­cil­i­tat­ing the sign­ing of the Hong Kong-Lon­don mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing as well as an aca­demic co­op­er­a­tion plan be­tween the Univer­sity of Hong Kong and the Shang­hai Mar­itime Univer­sity in Au­gust.

Fur­ther, the Pol­icy Ad­dress as­sured that the gov­ern­ment was ac­tively pro­mot­ing Hong Kong’s ship­ping reg­istry ser­vice to over­seas ship-own­ers through the Eco­nomic and Trade Of­fices on the Chi­nese main­land and other places in the world. The in­dus­try has long ea­gerly sought this move to strengthen the tra­di­tional ship­ping in­dus­try and pro­mote high-value ship­ping ser­vices.

Un­der the cur­rent Mer­chant Ship­ping (Safety) Or­di­nance, only the di­rec­tor of the Marine Depart­ment can is­sue rel­e­vant cer­tifi­cates for ves­sels reg­is­tered in Hong Kong. Since the city’s return to China in 1997, the num­ber of ves­sels reg­is­tered in Hong Kong has in­creased from over 400 to more than 2,500, mak­ing Hong Kong the fourth-big­gest reg­istry in the world. Given the sheer vol­ume, it is dif­fi­cult for the di­rec­tor to timely is­sue all rel­e­vant cer­tifi­cates to Hong Kong reg­is­tered ves­sels sail­ing all over the world in dif­fer­ent time zones.

The Eco­nomic and Trade Of­fices lo­cated in many coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries would no doubt help re­duce the Marine Depart­ment’s work­load and in­crease ef­fi­ciency. This will def­i­nitely help pro­mote Hong Kong’s reg­istry among world­wide shipown­ers and thus in­ject new im­pe­tus into the city’s ship­ping in­dus­try.

These up­lift­ing achieve­ments would help con­sol­i­date Hong Kong’s po­si­tion as an international ship­ping cen­ter. How­ever, it is still not enough to bring back the past glory of this in­dus­try.

The special ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gion gov­ern­ment should has­ten dis­cus­sions with the in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives and for­mu­late a long-term de­vel­op­ment strat­egy for the con­tin­u­ous de­vel­op­ment of tra­di­tional ship­ping and port ser­vices and other ser­vices in­clud­ing ship­ping ar­bi­tra­tion, ship­ping fi­nanc­ing and ship man­age­ment as well as up­dat­ing ship­ping laws.

For in­stance, the gov­ern­ment can at­tract for­eign ship­ping and port en­ter­prises to set up branches in Hong Kong by of­fer­ing tax and fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits; it can also im­ple­ment more con­ve­nient su­per­vi­sion so that the pro­tec­tion and in­dem­nity in­sur­ance clubs in Hong Kong will ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity of pro­vid­ing in­sur­ance and seek op­por­tu­ni­ties for ship­ping com­mer­cial law and ar­bi­tra­tion ser­vice providers un­der the coun­try’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive and the Guang­dong-Hong KongMa­cao Greater Bay Area plan.

This can go along with ef­forts to ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity of es­tab­lish­ing a Guang­dong-Hong Kong “Joint Ship­ping Trad­ing Cen­ter”. That en­tails co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Hong Kong ship-fi­nanc­ing en­ti­ties and ship-build­ing en­ti­ties in Guangzhou and Nan­sha. Mean­while, Hong Kong has the po­ten­tial to be the best res­o­lu­tion cen­ter for ship­ping dis­putes in Asia.

More­over, the gov­ern­ment should pro­mote “Smart Ship­ping” de­vel­op­ment so Hong Kong can trans­form into an in­no­va­tive ship­ping cen­ter, lead­ing in the ex­plo­ration of new busi­nesses in ar­eas such as port-city in­ter­ac­tion, bay area eco­nom­ics and in­te­gra­tion of city groups.

All these re­quire the SAR gov­ern­ment to play an ac­tive and lead­ing role. It must work closely with the in­dus­try to come up with a com­pre­hen­sive plan to con­sol­i­date its po­si­tion as an international ship­ping cen­ter.

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