Major Speeches, Presentations and Press Releases

Speech by SCED at opening general session of ASAE's 2016 Great Ideas in Association Management Conference, Asia Pacific (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the opening general session "Economic Trends Across the Asia Pacific Region" of the 2016 Great Ideas in Association Management Conference, Asia Pacific, organised by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) today (April 11):

Distinguished guests, association executives, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning. It gives me great pleasure to join you all at this Asia-Pacific Great Ideas in Association Management Conference. A very warm welcome to everyone, especially those who have travelled a long distance to be here with us today.

     To me, the word "association" means gathering of people and combining their wisdom and strength to become a powerful entity. This meaning, in essence, captures the gist of my talk today. I am going to share with you a grand strategy that connects people from different continents, and once materialised, will drive the world economy for the next decades.

     Before we get to that though, let's first take a look at the economic outlook in 2016. There is indeed a broad consensus that global economic growth will remain modest and uneven in the foreseeable future. In January, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) adjusted the expected global growth rate in 2016 downward to 3.4 per cent, and this figure may go even lower, indicating that the global economy is still struggling.

     Looking ahead, Asia, and in particular Mainland China, will continue to be the main engine of growth for the world economy. Based on the data from the IMF, the Mainland economy contributed 43 per cent of world trade growth and 35 per cent of global economic growth in 2014. The Asian economies, with many of them being emerging markets with huge potential, will continue to be a key source of growth and stability for the global economy in the 21st century.

     The reason I mention all these is not to suggest any blind optimism. There are plenty of challenges ahead of course, but in times of economic low tides, government and business leaders should reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses, to consolidate as well as to think bigger and broader, so that the society at large can sail faster and farther when the next high tides come.

     Good news! The high tides are on the horizon. It is the grand strategy that I was alluding to - the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, or the Belt and Road Initiative in short.

     Some of you from the other side of the Pacific Ocean may wonder how the Belt and Road Initiative is relevant to you. The answer is simple. The Belt and Road is not a fixed line. It is a global vision to boost co-development by better linking up economies ranging from the sophisticated to the emerging ones. The Initiative is open to all nations and is not limited by geography. The Belt and Road Initiative therefore invites people to go beyond the conventional geo-political confines. Through the promotion of co-operation in terms of policy co-ordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds among the 60-plus economies spanning Asia, Europe and Africa, the Belt and Road Initiative seeks to generate a new driving force of development in the 21st century.

     With the presence of high-level executives from different countries and regions in the Asia-Pacific region, this is surely a good platform for us to explore the massive opportunities presented by the Belt and Road Initiative.

     Hong Kong has all it takes, from our world-class market infrastructure and unparalleled business network to robust legal system, to partner with foreign businesses and associations to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative. You may ask, what makes Hong Kong so unique in this grand scheme?

     First and foremost, Hong Kong has a high degree of openness. I am referring not just to our open and free economy which has been consistently recognised internationally. We are open also in terms of our receptiveness of different cultures and values, and our boundaries which are open for people mobility. Our long history of openness has connected us to various places in the world and equipped Hong Kong as one of most friendly and adaptive international cities.

     We have a vibrant civil society in which various social groups have established strong bonds with their overseas counterparts. It is common to see businesses, chambers of commerce, professional bodies, youth and charitable organisations as well as many other social groupings or even individuals having extensive and amicable networks established with overseas partners. Such networks are invaluable social capital of Hong Kong.

     The Belt and Road Initiative covers various aspects and proposes co-operation in many sectors, but fundamentally the Initiative is about making connections. Hong Kong people are good at straddling communication barriers, turning strangers into friends and building networks. If we can make good use of our social capital, we would be the best-placed city to contribute to the Belt and Road by way of soldering people-to-people bonds.

     Allow me, over the next few minutes, to share with you a few areas that Hong Kong may help you capitalise on the wealth of opportunities emerging from the Belt and Road. These include trading, logistics, tourism, professional services and financial services.

     First, trading. Hong Kong was built on trade, and we remain today one of the world's greatest trading economies. Our geographical location, at the southern gateway to Mainland China, gives us unparalleled trade opportunities. As one of the world's most business-friendly cities, Hong Kong is the best platform for foreign enterprises to establish their businesses along the Belt and Road. The free market policies, a simple and low-rate tax system and free flow of information provide an excellent environment for businesses to thrive in Hong Kong.

     Foreign companies can also take advantage of the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), which provides preferential treatment to Hong Kong service suppliers as well as tariff-free treatment for products of Hong Kong origin. With CEPA, businesses can gain greater access into the Mainland market through Hong Kong.

     What else? The Belt-Road will catalyse the movement of people and goods, boosting demand for reliable logistics services. In this, Hong Kong is also well served. Indeed, Hong Kong boasts the world's fourth busiest container port, providing some 350 services a week to more than 500 destinations worldwide. Our 700 shipping-related companies offer a wide range of services, from ship management, broking and chartering to finance, marine insurance, legal, arbitration and many other support services. Our airport has been the busiest cargo airport in the world for more than 15 years. From Hong Kong, you can reach all major Asian economies within four hours' flight time. Half the world's population is just five hours away.

     As regards tourism, Hong Kong is situated at the centre of the Asia-Pacific region and has a well-developed aviation network. These geographical advantages allow us to play an important role in the development of cruise tourism along the Belt and Road. Expanding our cruise tourism market and promoting cruise itineraries in the region will lay a foundation for the development of itineraries for long-haul sailings along the Belt and Road, or even around the world.

     In terms of professional services, Hong Kong has a deep pool of talented professionals in the fields of accounting, law, architecture, engineering management and much more. Hong Kong can also contribute to and benefit from the large number of consultancies as well as from the management and operation of infrastructural projects that may arise.

     As for financial services, Hong Kong is China's international financial centre and we are also one of the leading financial centres in the world. We have the experience, the expertise and the connections to serve as the fund-raising and financial management hub for the Belt and Road. We run the world's eighth-largest stock market in terms of market capitalisation, and in 2015 we ranked first globally in terms of equity funds raised through initial public offerings.

     Ladies and gentlemen, the world economy is in need of a new and strong driving force in the 21st century, and I believe the ambitious concepts of the Belt and Road Initiative can be that much-needed force. 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.

     Thank you.

Ends/Monday, April 11, 2016
Issued at HKT 11:27