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Speech by SCED at 2010 International Customs Day Reception (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mrs Rita Lau, at the 2010 International Customs Day Reception this evening (January 26):

Commissioner Yuen, Secretary Lee, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

     Good evening. It gives me great pleasure to join you all today to celebrate the 2010 International Customs Day.

     As the Policy Secretary looking after commerce and economic development in Hong Kong, I am very pleased to learn that the World Customs Organization (WCO) has chosen "Customs and Business: improving performance through partnerships" as its theme this year.

     As we all know, the traditional role of Customs has been to collect excise duty, protect public revenue, and keep illicit drugs and harmful substances out of the territory.  This often brings Customs officers in direct contact - and sometimes conflict - with business. It is not surprising that in many parts of the world, Customs is still seen by many as a hurdle to trade. But I believe you will agree with me that the Hong Kong Customs is an exception.  

     For 16 years in a row, Hong Kong has been rated the freest economy by the US Heritage Foundation. This is attributed to our world-class infrastructure, a robust financial system with free flow of capital, a clean Government, the rule of law, low taxes and a simple tax regime. Hong Kong's success is also due in no small measure to our having an efficient and business-friendly Customs service. The fact that so many distinguished members of the business community join us this evening is testimony to the strong partnership that we enjoy in Hong Kong between "Customs and Business".

     After 9/11, customs administrations around the world have to strike a balance between securing the border and facilitating trade. In Hong Kong, we don't believe that the two are necessarily conflicting objectives. Indeed, we believe they may complement each other. First of all, a safe and secure environment is essential to doing business. It follows that a safe and secure supply chain is essential to the efficient movement of goods. However, this is not something Customs alone can deliver. We must continue to promote partnership between Customs and Business so that we appreciate each other's concerns. Moreover, by working together, we can improve performance by possibly lowering the need for Customs inspection and reducing the cost of doing business.

     Through the establishment of liaison groups, the Hong Kong Customs maintains close dialogue with the business sector. The regular exchanges have enabled our Customs to understand better how the market operates and bring about the necessary changes and improvement to meet the needs of the Hong Kong business people and community. For example, we will soon roll out the electronic Road Cargo System (ROCARS for short) to facilitate road cargo clearance. In fact, ROCARS has been developed in close collaboration with the industry. It allows shippers to submit road cargo data electronically in advance for customs clearance. Vehicles thus cleared may then go through the customs kiosks at the control points seamlessly. Not only does the launch of ROCARS mark a new phase of seamless customs clearance, it will also help enhance the efficiency and competitiveness of our logistics industry.

     I am also encouraged that this strong partnership between "Customs and Business" has been extended beyond the scope of traditional customs operations. Close co-operation between Customs and the Consumer Council has helped promote public awareness of consumer rights, product safety and fair trade. The problem of unscrupulous consumer electronics and jewellery shops targeting Mainland visitors used to be rampant a few years ago. By working together with the relevant industry, we have put the problem firmly under control. This tripartite co-operation has laid a strong foundation for us to tackle other issues for safeguarding consumer interests. It has in turn helped to promote the integrity of our tourist and retail industries thereby bolstering the brand of Hong Kong as a shopping paradise.

     Another example is intellectual property rights (IPR). Comprehensive and effective IPR protection underpins Hong Kong's success as an international business and trade centre. The Hong Kong Customs has forged an alliance with stakeholders, including proprietors of copyright or trademark, their authorised agents, legal representatives or representative organisations, to tackle the problem of counterfeiting and piracy. The alliance has taken forward many IPR protection initiatives, such as the "E-auctioning with Integrity Scheme", the "Jewellery Integrity Campaign", the "Fast Action Scheme" for trade exhibitions and the "Youth Ambassador Against Internet Piracy Scheme" that help raise public awareness of and respect for intellectual property rights. All these examples bear out the importance of partnership between Customs and Business in customs actions.

     Ladies and gentlemen, in a moment, I will present, on behalf of the WCO, Certificates of Merit to members of the Hong Kong Customs, the Consumer Council and representatives of business who have made exceptional contributions to promoting partnership between Customs and Business in Hong Kong. I would like to congratulate the Certificate recipients and to thank all of you for your support to the work of our Customs and in maintaining Hong Kong's continued success and competitiveness.

     Thank you.

Ends/Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Issued at HKT 19:07


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