Speeches and Presentations

SCED's speech at ASEAN Leadership Forum in Nay Pyi Taw (English only)

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leadership Forum in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, today (May 11):

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia, His Excellency Dato' Seri Anifah Aman; Senior Minister, Cambodia, His Excellency Chantol Sun; Mr U Win Aung (President, The Republic of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry); Tan Sri Michael Yeoh, Chief Executive Officer, Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute; honourable guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I'm very pleased to join you all for dinner this evening. This is a great way to kick off the 11th ASEAN Leadership Forum. I would like to thank the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute and the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry for inviting me and I thank our hosts here in Myanmar for your warm hospitality.

This year's Forum provides a timely opportunity to preview the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) to be established by December 2015. I look forward to a candid exchange of views and valuable insights from business leaders and government officials during the Forum.

We are living in exciting times for our region. Asia has a far more prominent voice in international affairs, a voice more commensurate with the sheer size, energy and economic potential of our region. I look forward to sharing with you my thoughts on the AEC during the Forum tomorrow. Tonight, I would like to take this opportunity to focus on Hong Kong's strong and multi-faceted ties with ASEAN. This is a long-established friendship which we believe will play a contributing role to building a more integrated and interconnected regional community in the years ahead.

Hong Kong values ASEAN as a very important trading partner. The trade relationship between Hong Kong and ASEAN is significant. Last year, the ASEAN bloc became our second largest goods trading partner in the world, ahead of the US (United States) and the European Union and behind only Mainland China. In 2013, the value of total bilateral trade between Hong Kong and ASEAN exceeded US$96 billion. ASEAN was also our fourth largest trading partner in services in 2012, with total bilateral trade of over US$14 billion.

With a free and open economy and a strategic location, Hong Kong also serves as a key entrepôt for trade between ASEAN and the Mainland of China. Last year, US$45 billion worth of trade between ASEAN and the Mainland of China was routed through Hong Kong, representing more than 10 per cent of the total trade between ASEAN and China.

Our position - both geographically and geopolitically - makes Hong Kong the perfect platform for overseas enterprises to access the Mainland markets and, increasingly, for Mainland companies to "go global".

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)'s latest forecast, global economic growth this year is estimated at 3.6 per cent, exceeding last year's 3 per cent growth. There is also a tale of two growth rates, according to the IMF. That for advanced economies is estimated at 2.2 per cent this year, which would be the fastest growth since 2010. However, it pales by comparison to the estimated growth rate of 6.7 per cent for developing regions in Asia. This is very encouraging and an additional incentive for us to work towards closer economic and trade co-operation between Hong Kong and ASEAN, co-operation that will bring benefits to our entire region.

ASEAN and Hong Kong are major investors of each other's economy. At the end of 2012, ASEAN was the sixth major source of inward direct investment into Hong Kong and the fifth major destination of outward direct investment from Hong Kong.

All this underscores the reciprocal relationship between Hong Kong and ASEAN. We have a close, vibrant and growing economic relationship that both sides cherish and are developing together.

Nowadays, the robust developments in bilateral, regional and plurilateral trade agreements have brought economies in the same region and across regions closer together in terms of economic co-operation. The establishment of the AEC will provide a catalyst for fostering the free flow of goods, services, investment and talent within Southeast Asia. In addition, the various ASEAN-plus initiatives, in particular the Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership (RCEP), will expand the free trade model to a bigger map which includes East Asia.

The objective of the ASEAN-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement (FTA) echoes that of the AEC. The ASEAN-Hong Kong FTA will mark a significant step towards the ultimate goal of regional economic integration, commonly shared by the AEC and Hong Kong.

Over the past decade, the economic growth rate of East Asia has been remarkable. While East Asia's economic success can be attributed to a number of factors, continual efforts to liberalise trade have played a key part in this achievement. We believe that, with a deeper economic integration and stronger ties between us, there is even greater potential for our economies to grow and businesses to flourish and jobs to be created. We can join hands to consolidate our position, move our economies up the value-added chain, add impetus to growth and adapt to the underlying changes in the global landscape. That way, we can open up opportunities for robust sustainable development together. There will always be competition between our companies and our economies, this is natural and healthy. However I believe that, on the government-to-government level there is scope to rebalance the ratio of competition and collaboration. We should engage one another more as partners to grow the Asian economic pie bigger and share a larger portion of the fruits of these unprecedented modern times for our region. The business community is poised to embrace trade liberalisation initiatives such as the AEC, the RCEP, and the ASEAN-Hong Kong FTA. The sooner these free trade initiatives are in effect, the earlier the business community can benefit.

Hong Kong is continuing to work hard to deepen and broaden our bilateral economic relationships. We are putting more and more resources into the region. For example, we are beefing up manpower at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (ETO) in Singapore, which was established some 19 years ago. The Singapore ETO is responsible for developing bilateral relations between Hong Kong and ASEAN. We are also considering increasing the number of ETOs in Southeast Asia to further enhance our bilateral relations. These initiatives demonstrate Hong Kong's commitment to contribute positively to the regional development within ASEAN.

Asian economies, including Hong Kong and individual ASEAN members, are at different developmental stages. We can, and we must, complement each other's growth and development. Hong Kong is ready to share its experience and contribute to regional development through capacity-building initiatives. We also want to learn from the experiences of our partners in the region. Beyond the public sector, Hong Kong Polytechnic University has been working with local partners in ASEAN to pass on skills and knowledge. Last year, the university conducted computer workshops and installed mobile computer networks in "tuk-tuks" to benefit youngsters in the region. At the government level, we have also been giving technical briefings on topics of interest to our friends from various ASEAN governments. Subjects include anti-corruption and good governance, banking sector regulation, urban planning and heritage conservation, just to name a few.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have provided a small appetiser for a larger discussion on Hong Kong's relationship with ASEAN tomorrow, among other key issues. It just remains for me to wish the ASEAN Leadership Forum great success and to wish you all a very fruitful and enjoyable Forum.

Thank you.

Sunday, May 11, 2014
Issued at HKT 22:02