Following is the speech (English only) by the Financial Secretary, Mr Antony Leung, at the Inaugural Dinner of the Establishment of the Hong Kong-Thailand Business Council at Island Shangri-La Hotel tonight (September 25):
Thank you, Bernard. Good evening, Deputy Prime Minister, Consul-General, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a privilege to be present at the first official function of the Hong Kong-Thailand Business Council. The establishment of the Council can only reinforce our already strong ties.
Thailand and Hong Kong have long been important business partners. And that partnership just keeps growing. In the past decade, our bilateral trade has more than doubled, to 5.4 billion US dollars last year. The momentum is continuing this year, with total trade up 9.2 per cent in the first seven months. When I say our trade is important, I don't mean only in dollar value or volume. We rely on Thailand for the lion's share of one of Hong Kong's most essential needs - specifically, about 80 per cent of our rice imports last year. So I guess you could say there's a little bit of Thailand in most Hong Kong homes.
And I must add that Thailand is a popular destination for Hong Kong people, such that over half a million of us made trips to Thailand last year. During weekends and holidays, thousands of Hong Kong people rushed to Bangkok, Pkuket, Pattaya and other places in Thailand to experience the dynamism and culture, as well as enjoy the sunshine and the beaches there.
On top of our bilateral trade, roughly one-third of Thailand's trade with the Mainland of China is routed through Hong Kong. And China's international trade can only expand now that it's a member of the World Trade Organisation. Given Hong Kong's strategic location, our independent legal system, our level playing field for business, and our strength as an international financial centre and services hub, we are an ideal portal between Thailand and the Mainland of China. Hong Kong's businesses will continue to be excellent partners for Thai companies as they venture into the Chinese market.
Just as Hong Kong is the gateway to the Pearl River Delta - the most prosperous, fastest-growing region in China - we are keenly aware that Thailand is strategically located at the centre of South East Asia. So, it acts as the gateway for Hong Kong enterprises heading into South East Asia, and particularly into the Greater Mekong Region that includes Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Yunnan Province. Like the Pearl River Delta, the Greater Mekong is a fast-developing region with a market of tens of millions of people.
One of the objectives of this new council is to provide the Hong Kong and Thai business communities with opportunities to develop partnerships. This echoes precisely the 'two gateways partnership' that our Chief Executive and the Prime Minister of Thailand discussed when the Prime Minister visited Hong Kong in May last year. So I'm delighted to witness this very significant step toward that goal that's taking place here tonight. I would like to call upon both Hong Kong and Thai enterprises to seize this new chance to team up with one another. By doing so they will be able to make the best of the market opportunities that will undoubtedly emerge as Asian economies return to positive and more sustainable growth.
I'm confident that the Hong Kong-Thailand Business Council will make a significant contribution to strengthening our business and community links. I wish the Council a very successful and prosperous future. And I wish you all an enjoyable dinner tonight.
End/Wednesday, September 25, 2002