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Free-trade deal holds keys to HK recovery
( 2003-07-31 09:10) (China Daily HK Edition)

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said Wednesday that the keys to the revival of the Hong Kong economy can be found in the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement and a more integrated Pearl River Delta economy.

CEPA will provide a perfect launch pad for Hong Kong's painful mission to restructure and revive the economy, Tung said during a meeting with media representatives.

The free-trade pact was signed during Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Hong Kong on June 29. The mainland will extend zero tariff treatment for 273 categories of Hong Kong products starting next year and all local goods from 2006. The agreement further opens up 17 of the mainland's service sectors to Hong Kong firms.

Co-operation on a fuller scale between Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta, two highly complementary economies, will give full play to Hong Kong's advantages, said Tung.

He cited, among other things, Hong Kong's strong points in services, finance, logistics and the Pearl River Delta's manufacturing ability.

He disclosed that Hong Kong and Guangdong Province will meet on August 5 to hammer out details on better economic integration, possibly including the building of a bridge that links Hong Kong with Macao and Zhuhai.

A delegation led by Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang left for Beijing yesterday for a meeting to co-ordinate major infrastructure projects between Hong Kong and the mainland.

Tung described it as the government's mid- and long-term objective to seize the opportunities created by CEPA and Pearl River Delta economic integration.

Short-term goals will focus on the creation of jobs and stabilizing the property market, said the chief executive.

Tourism helps create jobs, Tung said, adding that if more mainland tourists come to Hong Kong, it will be a great impetus to the local economy.

Confidence in the property market is still fragile, Tung admitted, adding that the government will do something not only to stabilize property prices but also look for a rebound.

The chief executive was optimistic about the economy but stopped short of describing it as "bottoming out".

The 4.5-per-cent growth in the first quarter this year has proven that "we are heading in the right direction," Tung said.

Style of governance

Meanwhile, communication channels between the government and the public will be enhanced and institutionalized, Tung said, adding that the government is studying possible ways to attract more people to join its advisory bodies.

Admitting the government had made some mistakes in the past, Tung pledged to change his leadership style and not push unpopular policies.

He said some policies introduced by the government had created a short-term burden to the public, particularly the middle-class.

Noting that the procession on July 1 was a great challenge to the government, he said the incident showed public grievances about his leadership, the shortcomings of government policies and the lack of communication.

"We have done researches, summed up the experience and learned the lessons with a serious attitude," said the chief executive. He described it as a top priority for Hong Kong to ensure social and political stability.

"First of all, we have to enhance our style of governance considerably. Besides, we have to do a good job in improving people's livelihoods and the economy," Tung said.

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