Following is a speech by the Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology, Mr John Tsang, at the joint opening ceremony of Asia Pacific Information and Communications Technology Awards and Hong Kong International Computer Conference 2004 today (December 8): (English only)
Mr Lee, Mr Lai, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to extend my warmest Hong Kong welcome to everyone. I would also like to thank the Hong Kong Computer Society for staging the prestigious Asia Pacific Information and Communications Technology Awards and the Hong Kong International Computer Conference here in Hong Kong. This is a unique honour for us.
I am doubly delighted that this gathering is taking place when our economy has finally turned the corner and is progressing on a broad-based recovery. Deflation is over, the property market has bounced back, the unemployment rate is slowly but steadily coming down to a more manageable level, tourists are arriving in record numbers and our exports continue to flourish. We expect to be on track in achieving a 7.5% GDP growth for 2004. Unlike last year when we saw empty hotels and desolate shopping malls, our hotel occupancy rate has reached 90% in the peak season recently and our retail sales value has increased by 11.4% to about $16 billion in the first 10 months of this year.
The long spell of deflation and economic restructuring that we have endured in the past few years has served to reduce our costs, leaving our economy lean and competitive. At the same time, we are leveraging on the Mainland's rapid economic growth, and we are seeking to foster even greater economic co-operation with the Mainland. We are pursuing this goal at different levels, through expanding our co-operation with the Guangdong Province to enhance the two-way flows of people, goods, services and capital across the boundary, through the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, or CEPA for short, to give Hong Kong companies a "first mover advantage" into the Mainland market ahead of China's WTO commitments, and more recently, through the Pan-Pearl River Delta Regional Co-operation and Development Forum, or "Pan-PRD", to position Hong Kong as the services hub for southern China.
These activities together create a new era of opportunity for companies in the Asia Pacific region, or, indeed, anywhere in the world. Foreign companies can take advantage of CEPA to enter the Mainland market, and use Hong Kong as the base for doing business in the Pan-PRD region. There are at present more than 3,600 regional headquarters or regional offices of overseas companies in Hong Kong. That is a record high, and the numbers are growing each year. We expect this trend to continue as more foreign investors set up or expand their Hong Kong operations to enjoy the opportunities available here.
While leveraging on our close ties with the Mainland, we are continuing to build on our existing strengths as Asia's World City. We are firmly committed to upholding the rule of law, the protection of intellectual property rights, a corruption-free government, the free flow of information and a cosmopolitan lifestyle. Last week, the prestigious Luxury 2004 Conference organised by the International Herald Tribune was held here in Hong Kong. This gathering brought together a star-studded assembly of prominent and talented owners and designers of brand names from around the world.
We will also spare no effort in modernising our ICT and transportation infrastructure and in transforming Hong Kong into an innovation driven and knowledge based economy. We have one of the most advanced telecommunications infrastructure and networks in the world. By international standard, Hong Kong stands out in terms of external connectivity, penetration of broadband access and use of mobile network services. We are continuing to invest in research and development to promote innovative applications, contents and services that take advantage of Hong Kong's excellent infrastructure and competitive market.
Ladies and gentlemen, Hong Kong is located at the centre of the fastest growing region in the world, a region with high saving rates and increasingly affluent populations. I hope those of you who are visiting will enjoy your stay in our vibrant city. I look forward to welcoming you back as a tourist, or a conference participant or a business partner of our ICT companies to witness our progress.
Once again, I would like to thank the Hong Kong Computer Society, Sunny and Daniel in particular, as well as other supporting organisations, for their dedication and hard work in organising the APICTA and HKICC. I wish the gathering a tremendous success, and I hope that you have a fantastic stay in Hong Kong.
Thank you very much.
Ends/Wednesday, December 8, 2004