Following is the opening remarks by the Secretary for Trade and Industry, Mr CHAU Tak Hay, at the lunch hosted for Israeli Minister for Industry and Trade, Mr Ran Cohen today (Tuesday) (English only):
Minister Cohen, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to welcome you, Mr Minister, to Hong Kong, and to welcome all of you to this lunch.
I had the honour and pleasure of accompanying our Chief Executive, Mr Tung Chee Hwa, on his official visit to Israel in February 1ast year. I am delighted that we now have the opportunity to reciprocate the generous and warm hospitality that the Government and the people of Israel extended to us during our visit there.
As I told you this morning, Mr Minister, I have been a student of international affairs since a very young age. I have greatly admired the achievements of the State of Israel and the people of Israel for many many years.
In the most hostile surroundings and in the face of the most dire adversity, the people of Israel have managed not only to survive but also to build a great nation and achieve remarkable advances in your economic and technological development.
Our visit to Israel last year was therefore most rewarding, especially for me personally. We were greatly impressed by Israel's achievements over the past 50 years. Particularly inspiring to us was Israel's tremendous progress on the science and technology front. Israel's high-technology industry now ranks among the top five globally. You have the second highest number of start up companies in the world. Some 65 per cent of Israel's GDP comes from technology-related products, and the number of scientists as a percentage of population in Israel is twice that of the United States and three times that of Germany.
As you know, our Chief Executive's vision is to develop Hong Kong into a centre of innovation and technology in East Asia. We are conscious that if Hong Kong is to continue to prosper in the knowledge-based economy of the future, we must make the very best use of new ideas and technology in order to add value to our goods and services, to enhance our productivity and to maintain our competitiveness.
Because of Israel's strengths in high technology, science and technology naturally offer the most promising areas for co-operation and collaboration between Hong Kong and Israeli companies and institutions. I know our universities have already begun collaborating with their counterparts in Israel on research and development projects.
The agreement on information technology co-operation, to be signed between you, Mr Minister, and our Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting this afternoon, will be another milestone in the development of our bilateral ties. The agreement identifies a number of sectors that are of mutual interest for co-operation, for example, software and multimedia, wide band communication components, as well as information and communications infrastructure such as e-commerce infrastructure.
As it has done in other economies in the world, advances in technology and the growing appreciation of the enormous potential of the Internet and e-commerce are changing Hong Kong's economic scene at an astounding rate. Recent developments in our Growth Enterprise Market, which is the Hong Kong version of NASDAQ, reflect such changes.
And now a word on the bilateral trade between Hong Kong and Israel. I am pleased to tell you that in 1999, our total bilateral trade showed a 30 per cent increase over 1998. Looking ahead, China's entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which looks most likely to occur this year, will present enormous opportunities for businesses both for Hong Kong and for Israel.
China's WTO membership will further enhance Hong Kong's position as the premier gateway to China. Hong Kong businesses, with their great wealth of experience of doing business in the Mainland of China and their competitiveness in the provision of services, will have a lot to offer as strategic partners for Israeli companies wishing to expand their business in China.
I can see our bilateral ties strengthening in the coming years to our mutual advantage. I look forward to closer co-operation and collaboration between our two economies on various fronts.
Mr Minister, I know your visit is a very short one, but I hope that you and your colleagues will be able to take back to Israel an impression of Hong Kong's vitality and dynamism, of the important role that Hong Kong can play as a base for Israeli companies' activities in China and the rest of East Asia and, above all, of Hong Kong's friendship and goodwill towards Israel.
I would like to end with a toast to the friendship between Hong Kong and Israel and to lasting peace and prosperity for Israel.
End/Tuesday, March 07, 2000