A journey that HK can't afford to miss

Updated: 2017-03-10 08:00

By Sophie He(HK Edition)

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Chamber chief Jonathan Choi warns that HK companies will lose out dearly if they fail to grab the chances arising from the Belt and Road Initiative. He talks to Sophie He.

The Chinese General Chamber of Commerce (CGCC) - one of the oldest and most powerful business groups in Hong Kong - is playing a critical role in getting local enterprises to jump on the Chinese mainland-led Belt and Road Initiative so that they won't miss the boat with the abundant opportunities on offer.

The chamber has plenty on its plate, says Chairman Jonathan Choi Koon-shum, and seeing Hong Kong businesses thrive in the strategic initiative, already alluded to as a "once-in-a-lifetime journey", is among its primary aspirations.

The CGCC, a non-profit-making organization of local Chinese firms and businessmen that was founded in 1900, boasts a current membership of more than 6,000. It embraces associations and companies, as well as individual members from the manufacturing, financial, professional services, retail and tourism industries.

"We're responsible for our members, uniting Hong Kong's business community. We speak for them and keeps scouring opportunities for them," says Choi - a prominent philanthropist respected for his deep commitment to such fields as education and technological development.

Since the country's reform and opening-up, he says the chamber has been helping its members to become more integrated with the mainland, apart from developing businesses across the border. Hong Kong has always positioned itself as a key investment destination for mainland companies, while serving as a springboard for them to go out.

"The Hong Kong business community continues to enjoy the nation's unreserved backing, and now they're eager to develop or expand their operations overseas. The CGCC will help them with that."

Uppermost in their minds, Choi says, is how Hong Kong enterprises can jump on the bandwagon and grab the opportunities brought by the Belt and Road strategy.

With the mammoth project in full swing, Hong Kong - an important foothold of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road - is set to be a key driving force for promoting the city's and the region's economic development in the coming year by strengthening its ties with Guangdong province and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The SAR should also capitalize on its advantages as a global financial center and a magnet for initial public offerings (IPOs).

In Choi's view, many State-owned enterprises (SOEs) engaged in infrastructure are capable of taking on major projects, like the construction of airports, railways and bridges in the Belt and Road countries. Such a capability is beyond the reach of the vast majority of Hong Kong firms.

Modern services center

But, Hong Kong does have a great modern services industry, he stresses, adding that the city is host to many of the big-name financial institutions, auditing, law and consulting firms. Local companies should thus team up with SOEs in these infrastructure projects.

"Aside from offering professional services, Hong Kong firms can help in supervising those overseas projects, and apply our business models, like the MTR's 'Rail plus Property' business plan, which has been very successful in Hong Kong."

Besides, Hong Kong is an ideal venue for raising funds. Mainland enterprises can list in Hong Kong and use their IPO funds to drive their projects abroad.

According to Choi, the CGCC joined the Belt & Road Industrial and Commercial Alliance last year. The alliance, launched by the China Federation of Industrial Economics, will help promote the Belt and Road project to related countries this year and organize meetings to discuss ways of boosting communication and cooperation.

In addition, internationally-oriented Belt and Road-themed forums are in the cards.

Global forums

The CGCC will hold a forum in Cairo in April, to be followed by similar events in Beijing and Paris, which will be attended by hundreds of guests, including CGCC members, who will discuss the project and the business opportunities up for grabs.

In Hong Kong, the CGCC will hold a summit on regional cooperation between Hong Kong and East Asia in July this year, bringing together ministerial-level and principal officials, business elite and scholars from Japan, South Korea, ASEAN member countries, as well Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, to explore the latest economic trends in the region and Hong Kong's role.

The CGCC is also one of the organizers of the World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention, which aims to help mainland entrepreneurs promote their businesses.

Choi says China's economy is embracing the "new normal" and is likely to see 6.5-percent GDP growth for 2017. He expects the US dollar to stay strong and the yuan to continue coming under depreciation pressure.

Although a strong greenback and a relatively weak renminbi will be a boon for exports, it will have a negative impact on Hong Kong's tourism business, says Choi. Introducing standard working hours or raising the statutory minimum wage would also hamper the city's business environment.

However, Hong Kong is well augmented by a perfect legal system and low tax regime, while most Hong Kong companies operate beyond the local market, giving CGCC members much consolation for the future.

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(HK Edition 03/10/2017 page9)