Following is the speech by the Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology, Mr Henry Tang, at a Chinese New Year lunch hosted by the Hong Kong Ireland Business Forum, Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council at Dublin, Ireland today (March 10, Ireland time): (English only)
Minister Ahern, Mr Clive Brownlee, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to join you for the celebration of a new lunar year on the Chinese calendar - the Year of the Goat. In Chinese culture this is a very important time of the year. It is a time of family gathering and celebration. The Goat symbolises steadiness in the face of challenge. We will all need that steadiness.
This is an auspicious time of the year to start the business of the newly created Hong Kong/Ireland Business Forum, launched during the visit of Hong Kong's Financial Secretary, Antony Leung, less than four months ago. That visit also saw the exchange of joint statements of co-operation on Information and Communications Technology, and Small and Medium Sized Enterprises.
It is a mark of how keen we are to maintain momentum in Hong Kong/Irish relations that I have brought a delegation of 20 senior Hong Kong people from business, academia and the government. This is the first step taken under the aegis of the joint statements. Our delegation members are keen to establish contacts and explore opportunities for co-operation with their Irish counterparts.
Hong Kong and Ireland are alike in many respects. The annually published World Competitiveness Yearbook ranked Hong Kong and Ireland as 9th and 10th respectively in 2002. Our rankings in terms of e-commerce readiness and e-government development assigned by international agencies are also very similar. SMEs form the backbone of both our economies.
Ireland is one of Hong Kong's important trading partners. Our bilateral trade has increased substantially in the past five years at an annual rate of over 10 per cent. Commerce has flourished in other ways as well.
One conspicuous example was the filming of the Hong Kong-Irish co-produced movie "Highbinders", starring Hong Kong's famous Kung fu movie star Jackie Chan. I understand this aroused considerable interest in Ireland. Indeed, this was one of Hong Kong's most expensive productions ever, with a budget of about 35 million Euros. A large part of the movie was filmed in the heart of Dublin, featuring scenic spots like the River Liffey and the Clarion Hotel. I understand that Columbia TriStar has already acquired the worldwide rights of the film which will be shown in 5 000 cinemas globally. Scenes of Dublin will be showcased to the world when the film is released internationally.
Let me add briefly that Hong Kong is one of the world's most productive film centres. About 100 films were produced by Hong Kong last year. We have a wealth of talent. Clearly there is scope for further cooperation with Ireland in this area.
Building on the co-operative understandings reached, there is much we can do together. The Joint Statement on Information and Communications Technology provides an anchor for mutual co-operation in areas like electronic commerce and telecommunications networks and services, e-government initiatives, regulatory framework and government support measures in these areas, etc. We should be able to draw from each others' valuable experiences.
We in Hong Kong have set a clear vision in positioning ourselves as a leading digital city. We have already taken important steps to enhance our infrastructure. For instance, the first phase of the Cyberport, the IT flagship of Hong Kong, is open for business already and we are beginning to see the building up of a strategic cluster of IT and multimedia companies in the Cyberport. Among the anchor tenants are some well-known companies including Microsoft, GE Information Services, Sonera and Sybase.
We have promulgated a Digital 21 IT Strategy, under which we have initiated a number of projects on five important areas: enhancing our e-commerce environment; building e-government; developing our IT workforce; building a digitally inclusive society; and exploiting enabling technologies.
We have made some exciting progress. To cite a few examples, our mobile penetration rate has reached 91%, which is amongst the highest in the world. We have an excellent telecommunications infrastructure: our broadband networks cover all commercial buildings and over 98 per cent of domestic households.
We are well linked to Mainland China and all major cities in the world, with an external connectivity of 900 Giga bits per second, which is the second highest in Asia, second only to Japan. Under our liberalization policy, we have already opened up all sectors of our telecommunications market. We do not set any limit on the number of licences to be issued, except where there are capacity constraints.
As a result of open and keen market competition, consumers and businesses have benefited from the innovative telecommunications services provided at affordable prices. We have a PC penetration rate of 62 per cent and an Internet penetration rate of 53 per cent among our households, with more than one-third of them using broadband services.
Over nine million smart payment cards are in circulation in the market. That means more than one smart card per person for all seven million people in Hong Kong. The daily transaction value is already about 6 million Euros.
We have also taken the lead in electronic business by providing public services on-line under the Electronic Service Delivery Scheme. 90 per cent of amenable government services will be available on-line by the end of this year. We will shortly roll out a territory-wide smart ID card for our citizens, which will have multi-application capacity and could be used to serve as a driving licence, a library card and to carry a digital certificate for authentication of identity in electronic transactions.
With all these developments, Hong Kong has gained international recognition and we were ranked world No.1 in the 2002 International Telecommunications Union Mobile/Internet Index.
Turning to the important issue of Small and Medium sized Enterprises, the aim of the Joint Statement between Hong Kong and Ireland is to strengthen SME co-operation between the two sides through exchange of information about each other's support measures and best practices, to build co-operation between each other at government and non-government agencies levels, and to promote and facilitate business partnership and investment between SMEs of the two economies.
We are now pursuing the proposal to establish Internet hyperlinks between the Hong Kong Trade and Industry Department SME website and the relevant Irish websites to facilitate information access by Irish businesses. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council is also taking the initiative to invite an Irish delegation to take part in the SME Market Day to be held in Hong Kong in June, in order to promote business partnership and to build a co-operative network for our SMEs.
Hong Kong has a key role to play in linking the enterprises in Mainland China with international businesses. China's accession to the WTO opens up a whole new world of business opportunities. With our close geographical, cultural and economic links with the Mainland of China, and over 20 years' experience of carrying out business there, we are best placed to be the gateway for Irish companies to tap the vast Mainland market.
Just think about the Pearl River Delta. Including Hong Kong and Macau, the Pearl River Delta has a population of almost 50 million, that is already a good-sized European country. This region has an overall GDP of US$271 billion. It is the most prosperous and fastest-growing region in China. It is the largest exporter in the country; and, it is, by far, the most popular destination for foreign investment. For 25 years, Hong Kong's private sector has been investing in the Pearl River Delta. That explains why there are more than 65 000 Hong Kong-linked enterprises employing an estimated 7 to 10 million people in Guangdong Province.
Hong Kong provides the best two-way platform for doing business with the Mainland, especially the Pearl River Delta. We practise a system that westerners are familiar and comfortable with. We uphold the rule of law; our tax regime is simple and one of the most business-friendly in the world; the government is clean and efficient; a level-playing field is provided in the market; and there is free flow of information. In addition, we are firmly committed to protecting intellectual property rights, which is crucial to success in the knowledge-based economy. And this commitment is underpinned by comprehensive IP legislation, vigorous enforcement and sustained public education.
Indeed, our strategic value has been well recognised by many multi-national companies. There are over 3 100 overseas businesses which have set up regional headquarters or regional offices in Hong Kong, and these include familiar names like Philips and Deutsche Telecom. Their action speaks for itself. If Irish companies look for a strategic partner in the Asia Pacific, Hong Kong has to be your prime choice.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to have attended the inaugural board meeting of the Ireland/Hong Kong Business Forum earlier this morning and to address you in this luncheon, and I look forward to the Forum playing a crucial role in enhancing business co-operation between Ireland and Hong Kong. And I wish you all a prosperous Year of the Goat. Thank you very much.
End/Monday, March 10, 2003