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StanChart seeks CEPA benefits
( 2003-08-12 11:21) (China Daily)

British banking group Standard Chartered may consider registering in Hong Kong or buying Hong Kong-incorporated banks to benefit from the new free-trade deal between the mainland and the territory.

"If Hong Kong-incorporated companies could have more advantages to develop mainland business under CEPA (closer economic partnership arrangement), we will cautiously consider whether to register in Hong Kong," Peter Wong, director of Standard Chartered, who is in charge of the group's Greater China operations, told a press briefing yesterday.

Under the new arrangement, the mainland will allow access of Hong Kong-registered companies in 17 service sectors, including banking and insurance, from 2004. But Standard Chartered, with about two thirds of its business coming from Asia, does not have a Hong Kong-incorporated unit.

"Seeking merger and acquisition in Hong Kong is also an option," he added, but declined to make comments on market speculations that the group plans to acquire a local bank, such as Dah Sing Bank or Liu Chong Hing Bank.

However, he admitted that the bank is actively seeking acquisition in Hong Kong, not only for the greater access to the mainland market but to expand its corporate lending. The bank is one of the market leaders in consumer banking in Hong Kong.

"We may be looking at banks that have other types of assets that we don't have. And we are looking at banks that have more local customer segments," said Wong.

But he said the bank currently is not in acquisition talks in Hong Kong.

While seeking acquisition in Hong Kong, Standard Chartered is also looking to acquire a 15 per cent stake in a mainland bank, the uplimit for the presence of a single foreign bank in a mainland bank.

It is in talks with 10 nation-wide, joint-stock commercial banks but did not set a timetable for the tie-up, said Wong.

The bank would make an active bid to become a settlement bank for yuan business as Hong Kong is tipped to be a renminbi offshore centre under an extension agreement under CEPA.

"I think Hong Kong banks may start running yuan business in the next six to 12 months," said Wong. "We will bid for the job."

According to an earlier report, mainland financial experts and banking officials will come to Hong Kong late this month to study the launching of renminbi business in Hong Kong and discuss the details of financial co-operation.

The group reported better-than-expected half-year results last week, with its pretax profit climbing 17 per cent year-on-year to US$741 million despite global economic uncertainty.

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