Following is the speech by the Secretary for Economic Development and Labour, Mr Stephen Ip, at the Hong Kong Australia Business Association (HKABA-NSW) Business Awards Dinner in Sydney, Australia today (October 24) (English only):
Stephen, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to join you for dinner in this great city of Sydney and to be amongst such fine company.
My colleagues and I are always assured of a genuinely warm welcome whenever we visit Australia and tonight is no exception. It is a mark of the long-standing friendship and close business and family ties we have built up over many decades. Not just through trade, investment, education and law enforcement, but through strong personal connections, such as the 50,000 Australian citizens living in Hong Kong - the second largest grouping of Australians in an overseas city after London - and the estimated 90,000 or so Hong Kong-born people and their children in Australia. We are delighted to have Australia and Australians as true friends of Hong Kong.
Indeed, the bonds between our two communities are further strengthened by the very reason we are gathered here tonight - to recognise and reward local companies that excel in all aspects of international trade between Australia and Hong Kong, as well as Mainland China. The fact that these awards attract top sponsorship and an ever growing number of entries is a tribute to the confidence Australian companies and the business community share in Hong Kong and the Mainland; and the importance they place in the huge market potential of China.
We were particularly pleased to see that this confidence did not diminish during the "dark days" of the SARS outbreak earlier this year. Yes, tourism dropped away to negligible proportions at the height of SARS, but our trade continued to register double-digit growth. As I mentioned at the business conference this morning, in the first half of this year, our bilateral trade was up almost 10% over the same period in 2002. But I don't want to spend a lot of time tonight reciting facts and figures. I'm sure you're more interested in who are the winners in the HKABA business awards; finishing this excellent dinner; and enjoying the entertainment that has been lined up for you tonight.
Nevertheless, I won't let you off the hook so easily. I would be failing in my duty if I didn't say a few more words about the expanding market potential of China that I just referred to. It is a potential that is about to take on new meaning following the signing of the free trade agreement between Hong Kong and the Mainland, or, as we call it, CEPA (Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement). We dealt with it at some length at the conference, but I just wish to say that CEPA will bring new vigour to the Hong Kong economy, which has been undergoing painful restructuring over the past several years. It will reinforce our position as the leading platform for overseas companies wanting to access the China market, and hopefully, will help to stimulate more Mainland enterprises to use Hong Kong to launch themselves onto the global market.
From the beginning of next year, CEPA will eliminate substantial trade and investment barriers between Hong Kong and the Mainland. Indeed, 273 items of goods or 90% of our domestic exports to the Mainland will enjoy zero tariffs: And, just as important, the Agreement does not raise any obstacles for access by other economies to the two markets. In other words, overseas companies with substantive activity in Hong Kong are, under certain conditions, qualified as Hong Kong services providers for the entitlement of the benefits under CEPA. Of course, it is up to businessmen from Hong Kong, Australia and elsewhere in the world to decide whether, and how, they would like to leverage on CEPA to gain greater access to the Mainland market. But I am confident that with the right approach - preferably through Hong Kong - the benefits will be there for all to share.
Ladies and gentlemen, I know you're anxious to enjoy the rest of the evening, so in conclusion let me quote the words of the Australian Consul-General in Hong Kong, Mr David O'Leary: "What separates Hong Kong from all its regional competitors ... is that it provides a range of services to investors that are utterly reliable - in all of Asia, the most reliable infrastructure, the most reliable transport and communications, the most reliable staff, the most reliable business practices and the most reliable laws." End of quote. I for one am delighted we have such great third party endorsement.
Now I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to the New South Wales Chapter of the Hong Kong-Australia Business Association and all those taking part in the business awards programme, particularly the finalists. I wish you every success in the future.
Ends/Friday, October 24, 2003