SCED's speech at gala dinner organised by Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, Brussels, in Brussels (English only)
Following is the speech by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the gala dinner organised by Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, Brussels, in Brussels, yesterday (October 13, Brussels time):
Deputy Prime Minister Jambon (Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Security and Home Affairs, Mr Jan Jambon), Commissioner Hogan (Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission, Mr Phil Hogan), Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
My last visit to Brussels was already two years ago, and I'm very glad to be back this time to be with old friends and new at this splendid Egmont Palace. The wonderful taste of mussels and beer from my last visit is still vivid in my memory. Belgium and Hong Kong are thousands of miles apart, but the two places do share something in common: with Belgium being the gateway to Europe and Hong Kong the gateway to China and Asia, we both have a highly internationalised population, and we both embrace diversity in cultures and languages. We are also both a great fan of diamonds. Well, you ship them, we sell them.
This afternoon I had an interesting meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Mr Alexander De Croo, and tonight I am very honoured to have Deputy Prime Minister Jambon as our guest. It is no secret that Belgium and Hong Kong have long been enjoying close friendship. Belgium was the first partner that signed a Comprehensive Agreement for Avoidance of Double Taxation with Hong Kong, back in 2003. In recent years, there have been frequent high-level exchanges between the two places. These include the visit of Her Majesty Queen Mathilde and a strong Belgian delegation to Hong Kong's Business of Design Week in December 2013; the visit of our Chief Executive, Mr C Y Leung, to Brussels with an audience with His Majesty King Philippe in May last year; and when our Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, visited Brussels in May this year, she had a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Mr Kris Peeters.
A possible explanation of our close partnership is perhaps our shared aspirations for creativity. Belgian creativity has a solid foothold in Hong Kong. The highlight of Belgium as the partner country in our Business of Design Week in 2013 brought to Hong Kong impressive Belgian designs in various disciplines, from architecture to fashion and jewellery. Last October, the Hong Kong Arts Centre presented the exhibition "Beautiful Images of the Belgian Comic Strip Center". Meanwhile, the creative industries of Hong Kong are thriving, taking advantage of Hong Kong's position as a melting pot of Eastern and Western cultures. We had a group of Hong Kong artists taking part in the Brussels Creative Forum in August, and Mr Michael Young, a Hong Kong-based designer, has just given a talk at Brussels Design September last month. I look forward to more exchanges between Belgium and Hong Kong in this area.
Another thing that we share, of course, is our passion for good food. Tonight we are going to have top quality Hong Kong-style Chinese cuisine paired with excellent Belgian beers. My special thanks go to our Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Brussels, the chef team from the Chinese Culinary Institute in Hong Kong, and sommelier Mr Eric Boschman, for bringing us this unique gourmet experience.
The Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, which is now headed by Shirley, has already been established in Brussels for many years. Our reason for establishing the office in Brussels is, of course, because it is the capital of the European Union (EU). The EU is Hong Kong's second largest trading partner. This year, new initiatives such as the "Belt and Road" and the EU Investment Plan have added further opportunities for cooperation between the EU and Hong Kong. I'm pleased to have Commissioner Phil Hogan with us tonight, to celebrate our longstanding friendship.
Speaking of "Belt and Road" initiatives, this is a very important development strategy designed to enhance connectivity and co-operation, and integrate China more fully into the world economy. The "Belt" refers to the New Silk Road Economic Belt, which will link China with Europe through Central and Western Asia. The "Road" is the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. This sea route will connect China with Southeast Asian countries, as well as Africa and Europe.
The "Belt and Road" will generate demand and increase the volume and intensity of international trade and investment flows among countries on the routes, as well as the two-way traffic in and out of China. Hong Kong is well placed to serve as the "super-connector" for all these exciting developments. For example, being an important financial, commercial and maritime centre in the world, Hong Kong will provide a wide range of professional services for Chinese enterprises to "go global" in pursuit of the "Belt and Road" opportunities.
For European companies with investment and operations in Hong Kong, the "Belt and Road" initiative represents new business and new opportunities. We encourage European businesses to make use of Hong Kong as an investment springboard or a logistics hub when they venture into the markets of the "Belt and Road" countries.
You may ask, why is Hong Kong your ideal business partner? First, the location. Hong Kong is strategically located at the heart of Asia - at the doorstep of Mainland China and the Southeast Asian region. We serve as China's global financial centre and the premier gateway for business into and out of Mainland China. We can add value to business processes for European companies hoping to gain access to the huge Mainland China and Asian markets.
We also have an open and business-friendly environment with low and simple taxes. We practise the rule of law, underpinned by judicial independence. We embrace the internationally recognised codes of practice in business that are familiar to European businesses. And we guarantee a level playing field for all companies, and free flows of capital, information and talent. In a nutshell, Hong Kong provides the right financial, legal and cultural environment for European firms to succeed in our part of the world. Indeed, you would expect nothing less from an economy that is consistently ranked as the freest in the world. We have retained the top spot in the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom for 21 years in a row. This status reflects real advantages for doing businesses with Hong Kong and in Hong Kong.
What else? Hong Kong is also a significant marketing platform for European companies to showcase their premium products. With a population of just seven million, we received about 61 million visitors last year, including more than 47 million from Mainland China. It is no secret that Mainland Chinese visitors recognise brands and products they see in Hong Kong as something reliable and of premium quality. This explains why you can find almost all key European brands in Hong Kong, ranging from beer and chocolates to fashion and cars, which are all well sought after.
Ladies and gentlemen, Hong Kong has always been the "super-connector" connecting Mainland China with the rest of the world. As your friend and business partner in Asia, Hong Kong is ready to facilitate your ventures and help grow your businesses. I invite and encourage you all to make greater use of Hong Kong's unique advantage in terms of our physical proximity with the Mainland, as well as our first-class infrastructure and our highly competitive business and professional services.
There is an old Chinese saying, "Gastronomy comes first". I am keenly aware that you are all waiting for the exciting tasting journey, and so I should end my speech here. I wish you a nice evening with good food, good company, and good memories about Hong Kong. Thank you!
Ends/Wednesday, October 14, 2015