Following is the speech by the acting Financial Secretary, Mr Stephen Ip, at the opening ceremony of the First Asian Exhibition Forum at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre this (August 28) morning:
Stanley, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning. It gives me great pleasure to be here today to open the First Asian Exhibition Forum. I would especially like to extend a very warm welcome to our overseas visitors here today. I am sure you will find Hong Kong has something to offer each and every one of you, whether you're looking for a great bargain in the shops, some of the best cuisine in the world, or a quiet, verdant escape behind our stunning vertical cityscape. Although Henry Tang, the real Financial Secretary, cannot be here today because he is in Beijing, I can assure you that the speech I'm going to deliver is written by him.
As history has it, today is the 175th birthday of the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. But don't worry - I won't be quoting extensively from 'War and Peace'. I would, however, like to talk about 'Opportunity and Growth'.
I would like to congratulate the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Industry Association, the Union of International Fairs, as well as other organisers, for holding the First Asian Exhibition Forum here in Hong Kong. Your confidence - and the presence of our overseas guests - demonstrates clearly that Hong Kong has resumed our natural state as a vibrant, cosmopolitan and business-oriented city.
I want to start with a few words about the exhibition industry and its significant contributions to Hong Kong's economy. A recent study by the Business Strategies Group showed that in 2002, the exhibition industry contributed 7.3 billion Hong Kong dollars (US$936 million) to the economy. That sum was spent not only on the exhibitions themselves, but also in related sectors such as hotels, restaurants and retail.
Conventions, taken separately, contributed a further 675 million Hong Kong dollars (US$87 million) to the economy - again, mostly in the form of tourism income from overseas visitors. An exhibition or convention visitor stays much longer than the average visitor, and has far greater spending power. In fact, spending by overseas participants in conventions and exhibitions in Hong Kong is more than double the per capita spending of visitors overall.
The number of exhibition and convention visitors to Hong Kong has more than tripled in the past decade. Together with the jobs created by all these economic activities, the deals that get done on the exhibition floor, and the lucrative commercial relationships that form at trade fairs, it is no wonder that governments worldwide covet exhibition and convention business.
Hong Kong's success as Asia's exhibition capital is a result of the same elements that contribute to our positioning as Asia's world city. First of all, there's our strategic location. Not only are we within four hours flying time of most major cities in Asia, we are an integral logistics and services provider for the fastest-growing part of the fastest-growing economy in the world. What I'm talking about is the Pearl River Delta, which has been dubbed the 'factory of the world' and is a hotbed of quality manufacturing at extremely competitive costs.
Allow me to list Hong Kong's advantages very briefly, which are particularly relevant to the exhibition industry. We are a bastion of free trade, widely acknowledged as the world's freest economy. We have strong connections with mainland China - connections that are getting stronger by the day. We have leading-edge infrastructure - the ports, the airport, state-of-the-art telecommunications, sophisticated financial institutions, and of course world-class exhibition venues.
We have expertise in the services sector in general and the exhibition industry in particular. Hong Kong is home to such major trade fairs as the Hong Kong Watch and Clock Fair, which will take place here next week, the International Jewellery Show, the Asia-Pacific Leather Fair, the Hong Kong Electronics Fair and the Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair, to name just a few.
Hong Kong is business-friendly. We provide a level playing field for all businesses, whether local or foreign. Intellectual property rights are protected. Hong Kong is a duty-free port. We believe in 'small government, big market'.
Looking ahead, the signs are positive, not only for the exhibition industry but for Hong Kong's economy as a whole. China's accession to the World Trade Organisation has acted as a catalyst for increased international trade with, and investment into, China. The trade fairs held in Hong Kong play a crucial role in this process.
Earlier, I mentioned our strengthening economic ties with the Mainland. Two recent developments need mentioning. One was the signing of the Mainland-Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, or CEPA as we call it. From January 1 next year, a wide range of Hong Kong goods and services - including the convention and exhibition sector - will enjoy preferential access to the huge Mainland market. The CEPA provides a new platform for businesses in Hong Kong, whether locally or foreign-owned, to tap the vast opportunities that exist in the Mainland market. The second recent development is increased co-operation between Hong Kong and Guangdong Province. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong and the Governor of Guangdong themselves are leading this initiative.
One aspect of this enhanced co-operation is a more open entry regime for people from the Mainland - business visitors and tourists alike. This is already providing a major boost to Hong Kong's tourism industry. And both of these developments - the CEPA and cross-boundary co-operation - will mean more Mainland buyers and exhibitors at Hong Kong trade fairs.
There are also some exciting infrastructure developments for the exhibition industry. One is the new world-class International Exhibition Centre at Hong Kong International Airport, which is scheduled for soft opening by the end of 2005. The Government will be investing HK$2 billion in the project, which is expected to generate economic benefits of more than HK$10 billion over a 25-year period. At 66,000 square metres for the first phase, it will have the largest column-free exhibition halls in Hong Kong, spacious enough to host heavy equipment fairs. There are also plans for a third phase1 of the magnificent complex we're in today, which would involve adding 30,000 square meters by 2009.
The combination of these will ensure Hong Kong remains the most competitive in capturing the growing exhibition market, has sufficient quality facilities to stage a wide range of exhibitions, and is unrivalled in its ability to accommodate large events. It will definitely take our convention and exhibition business to a new level and consolidate our position as the convention and exhibition hub in the Asia-Pacific region.
You might think I sound overly optimistic. But, none of what I have mentioned is imaginary or far-fetched. Given our struggles with SARS, deflation and the budget deficit, there's been a tendency for gloomy news to prevail over good news. But we mustn't overlook all the unique advantages that Hong Kong possesses. We mustn't forget that the value of Hong Kong's exports continues to rise at impressive rates, or that we continue to host the biggest and best trade fairs in the region.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you the best in your deliberations today. I want to thank you for all your past contributions to Hong Kong's economy, and for your ongoing efforts to stimulate recovery. They have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.
Thank you very much.
End/Thursday, August 28, 2003