Speech by SCED at Hong Kong-Canada Business Association gala dinner in Calgary (English only)
Following is the speech by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the gala dinner organised by the Hong Kong-Canada Business Association (HKCBA) in Calgary, Canada, on June 3 (Calgary time):
Alexandria (National Chair of the HKCBA, Ms Alexandria Sham), Bonita (President of the Calgary section of the HKCBA, Ms Bonita Paquette), friends of Hong Kong, ladies and gentlemen,
Good evening. It is a great pleasure to join you here in this beautiful city of Calgary - a vibrant and exciting city with skyscrapers situated alongside with acres of urban parkland, and just an hour away from the Canadian Rockies.
Every visit here reminds me of the tremendous bonds between our two communities. Canada and Hong Kong may be thousands of miles apart, but we have well-established connections, spanning from business and commerce to social, cultural and people-to-people ties. There are some 300 000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong, while there is also a substantial population of Hong Kong immigrants in Canada. And, just like Canada, Hong Kong is also a melting pot of different cultures, where people across the globe come together.
On the business front, our bilateral trade reached nearly US$4.4 billion in 2015. From a business standpoint, the combined advantage of "one country" and "two systems" is compelling. It gives us and our business partners advantages no other economy in the world can offer: Hong Kong is part of China - when you do business with Hong Kong, you do business with China. But Hong Kong is distinct from other Chinese cities, as we have our own system. We have a level playing field, and capital, information, trade and people flow freely through Hong Kong.
Just last week, the IMD (International Institute for Management Development) World Competitiveness Yearbook ranked us as the world's most competitive economy, and earlier this year, the Washington-based Heritage Foundation ranked Hong Kong first in its Index of Economic Freedom, for 22 years in a row. It is no wonder that about 8 000 overseas and Mainland Chinese companies keep offices in Hong Kong, and that includes some 100 Canadian companies.
I believe the economic ties between Canada and Hong Kong will further be strengthened. Your Minister Freeland and I signed the Canada-Hong Kong Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, IPPA in short, in Toronto in February. The IPPA will reassure investors of both sides that their investments in the counterparty economy are protected, and will provide for a mechanism for the settlement of possible investment disputes between investors and the counterparty government. This will certainly boost the confidence of the investors, and will stimulate further our bilateral investment flows.
You may ask, exactly what opportunities are there in Hong Kong for Canadian companies? My quick and short answer to that is: there are plenty of opportunities in Hong Kong.
I am not going to repeat why Hong Kong is an excellent place for Canadian companies to do business, as well as the "super-connector" between Mainland China and the rest of the world. My ETO (Economic and Trade Office) colleagues advised me that the Hong Kong-Canada Business Association has done such a great job promoting Hong Kong, and people in Canada are so well connected to Hong Kong, that you can recite these Hong Kong advantages back to me.
And I am also not going to delve into the technical details of CEPA (the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement), the special free trade arrangement between Hong Kong and Mainland China, and that by partnering with Hong Kong, Canadian companies can gain the same enhanced access to the massive Chinese consumer market. My ETO colleagues have made available for you a lot of materials on it.
What I would like to focus on today is something called the Belt and Road Initiative, a visionary plan spearheaded by President Xi himself. "Belt" refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt, and "Road" refers to the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
This grand strategy encourages closer economic as well as cultural co-operation among some 60-plus economies, particularly those emerging economies spanning Asia, Europe and Africa. Belt and Road is, in essence, an invitation to the international community to join hands to take global and regional co-operation to new heights, in particular in terms of enhancing policy co-ordination, strengthening infrastructural facilities connectivity, facilitating unimpeded trade and investment, deepening financial integration and building people-to-people bonds.
You may wonder how the Belt and Road Initiative, which covers countries on the other sides of the oceans, is relevant to Canada. The answer is simple. Belt and Road is not a fixed line. It is a global vision to boost co-development by connecting economies along the route. The initiative is open to all nations and is not limited by geography. The Belt and Road Initiative therefore invites people to think bigger and broader, and to go beyond the conventional geopolitical confines.
The Belt and Road Initiative covers various aspects and proposes co-operation in many sectors, but fundamentally the initiative is about making connections. And I am proud to say that facilitating connections is also what Hong Kong is good at. This is how we see Hong Kong will contribute to, and benefit from, the Belt and Road blueprint.
Allow me to spend the next few minutes sharing with you how Hong Kong may facilitate overseas businesses as they step out of their geographical boundaries and venture into the vast Belt and Road market.
First of all, Hong Kong may serve as the facilitator in financial activities. Belt and Road will trigger soaring investment in infrastructural facilities. As China's international financial centre, and one of the world's leading financial capitals, Hong Kong has all it takes, from our world-class market infrastructure and unparalleled business network to the robust legal system, to serve as the fundraising and financial management hub for countries along the Belt and Road.
Specifically, Hong Kong is the world's largest offshore Renminbi business centre, providing international investors with Renminbi services ranging from cross-border trade settlement to bond issuance. As trade and other economic activities along the Belt and Road expand, so too will the demand for Renminbi trade settlement. Hong Kong can respond to that demand. After all, we've been handling the lion's share of Renminbi trade settlement since its beginnings in 2009.
Hong Kong may also serve as the facilitator for trade and businesses. Our strategic geographical location, at the southern gateway to Mainland China, gives us unparalleled trade opportunities. Today, some 20 per cent of the Mainland's international trade is handled by Hong Kong. We are serving as the "super-connector", enabling overseas companies to enter the China market, while assisting Chinese enterprises in going global. From air to road to sea, we provide shippers and suppliers with reliable transportation. Within five hours' flight time from Hong Kong, we can reach half of the world's population and most of Asia's thriving economies. Our port is among the top five busiest in the world. Our international airport is the world's busiest cargo airport.
What's more? Hong Kong may serve as a professional services hub as well. Hong Kong is blessed with a large pool of world-class professionals, with expertise in areas such as accounting, law, architecture, engineering management and more. These professionals can provide high-quality services beyond the provision of financial capital and expertise. They possess the requisite competence and experience to lead consultancies, construction projects, operations and management of the many infrastructure projects along the Belt and Road.
Ladies and gentlemen, the world economy is in need of a new and strong driving force in the 21st century. I believe the ambitious concepts of the Belt and Road Initiative can be that much-needed force. And Hong Kong has what you need in a strategic partner as you venture into markets of the Belt and Road countries. I encourage you all to make full use of our advantages in tapping the massive Asian markets and beyond.
Last but not least, I would like to thank the Hong Kong-Canada Business Association for organising the Hong Kong-Canada Business Leader Award to honour those who have launched business ventures into Asia through the ideal platform of Hong Kong, and hosting this award dinner. My thanks, as well, to all of you: for joining me today and for your continuing interest in Hong Kong. My congratulations to the award winners. I look forward to welcoming our Canadian friends to Hong Kong, and I hope to visit this captivating city again soon.
Ends/Thursday, June 4, 2016