Following is a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, to a question by the Hon Albert Chan in the Legislative Council today (November 24):
I understand that at present, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government has set up a number of offices on the Mainland and in various places in the world, and that, by virtue of agreements signed with some of these countries or places or orders promulgated by the governments of the countries or places concerned, these overseas offices set up by the HKSAR Government enjoy certain privileges or immunities. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) at present, which countries or places have signed agreements with the HKSAR Government or promulgated orders to grant certain privileges or immunities to the HKSAR offices set up in those countries or places; of the contents of such agreements or orders;
(b) whether the authorities had exercised the aforesaid privileges or immunities in the past five years; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(c) whether the aforesaid privileges or immunities have any impact on the rights and interests of the local residents who work in these offices outside HKSAR; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(d) of the decision-making procedure for exercising the aforesaid privileges or immunities, and who makes the final decision?
With regard to part (a) to (d) of the question, our reply is as follows:
The privileges and immunities granted to the Hong Kong Overseas Economic and Trade Offices (ETOs) are the result of negotiations with the host governments and these vary from one office to another. In some cases, the host governments (such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany) had granted certain privileges and immunities to the ETOs through dedicated domestic legislations. At present, all 11 overseas ETOs (London, Brussels, Geneva, Washington, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Toronto, Singapore, Sydney and Berlin) have been granted certain privileges and immunities by respective host governments to facilitate the ETOs to discharge their duties without intervention. Broadly speaking, the privileges and immunities enjoyed by the ETOs mainly include the inviolability of premises, official correspondence, archives and documents as well as the exemption of premises and representatives from taxation.
During the past five years, the overseas ETOs did not assert any claims of immunities from civil and administrative jurisdiction.
The privileges and immunities granted by the host governments aim to facilitate the overseas ETOs to discharge their duties without intervention. When dealing with the benefits and rights related to the employment of local residents, the ETOs would observe the relevant laws of the respective host countries.
Before making a decision on the exercise of privileges and immunities, the HKSAR Government will seek legal advice in the respective host countries on issues relating to the above-mentioned privileges and immunities which are granted under the laws or administrative arrangements of the host countries concerned. The advice sought will be considered by concerned policy bureaux.
In addition to the overseas ETOs, the HKSAR Government has also established four offices in the Mainland, namely the Beijing Office, and three ETOs in Guangdong, Shanghai and Chengdu respectively. The relevant Mainland authorities had agreed to put in place a number of facilitation arrangements to these offices, so as to ensure their smooth operation. These include, for example, exemption from customs duty of official goods and equipment, and exemption of Hong Kong based staff from local income tax. These facilitation arrangements have been implemented smoothly with the support and co-operation of the relevant Mainland authorities over the years.
Ends/Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Issued at HKT 15:41