Speech by SCED at "Hong Kong - Slovenia: Opportunities in Hong Kong for the Slovenian Business" business seminar and luncheon in Slovenia (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at "Hong Kong - Slovenia: Opportunities in Hong Kong for the Slovenian Business" business seminar and luncheon in Ljubljana, Slovenia, today (April 3, Ljubljana time):

Dr Danilo Türk (former President of Slovenia Dr Danilo Türk), Mr Podgoršek (State Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food of Slovenia, Mr Marjan Podgoršek), Shirley (Special Representative for Hong Kong Economic and Trade Affairs to the European Union, Ms Shirley Lam), Betty (Director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Berlin (Berlin ETO), Ms Betty Ho), William (Regional Director, Europe, Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), Mr William Chui), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good afternoon. Thank you for joining the business seminar and luncheon today to explore the opportunities that Hong Kong can bring to Slovenian businesses. I trust that you have harvested valuable insights from the speakers in the seminar earlier this morning.

     This is my first visit to Slovenia, but I already know it will not be my last. Aside from the rich culture, heritage and beauty of this city and this great country, the desire to succeed and your entrepreneurial spirit remind me very much of Hong Kong.

     Being here today also reminds me of the good times I had with my Slovenian friends. Last year, the HKTDC and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food of Slovenia co-organised the signature gala wine dinner during the annual Wine and Spirits Fair in Hong Kong. The gala wine dinner carried the theme "I Feel Slovenia" and gathered key industry players and renowned guests to enjoy fine wines from Slovenia with delicate dishes.

     Indeed, many of Slovenia's wines are of popular varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, yet they stand out from others because of their premium qualities and the unique tastes as a result of adaptation to the local environment in Slovenia. Slovenian wines also match well with popular Asian cuisines such as seafood, spicy Chinese and Thai food, Cantonese dim sum and roasted suckling pig. There is great market potential for Slovenian wines in Asia.

     To continue our close co-operation on wine trade and promotion, I am pleased to announce that Slovenia and Hong Kong have just signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Co-operation in Wine-related Businesses. The MOU will facilitate co-operation in wine-related trading and investment promotion, education and training, tourism, preventing counterfeit wines and more. With the MOU, Slovenia can make the best use of Hong Kong's advantages as a duty free port, a regional logistics and business hub and the world's largest wine auction centre.

     Like the wine trade, many Slovenian businesses can make use of the unique advantages of Hong Kong to extend your reach to the Far East. The unique status that Hong Kong enjoys under the "one country, two systems" principle, and our very strong links with the Mainland of China continue to make us the preferred location for doing business in Asia. Added with our fundamental strengths, including the rule of law, free flow of capital and information, a business-friendly environment, a diverse and international talent pool, and a low and simple tax regime, Hong Kong has earned the title of the world's most competitive economy awarded by Switzerland's IMD 2016 yearbook. We are particularly pleased that Hong Kong was ranked the freest economy by the Heritage Foundation of the US for the 23rd consecutive year, once again affirming our steadfast commitment in safeguarding the free market principles.

     Being a global financial, logistics and trading hub, Hong Kong will continue to play the important role of a "super-connector" between Slovenia and the Mainland of China. In fact, I am confident our co-operation will only expand in the coming years, thanks to the ambitious and visionary initiative of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, commonly known as the Belt and Road Initiative that was spearheaded by President Xi of China in 2013.

     This grand and far-reaching Initiative aims to expand trans-continental connectivity, to promote economic, political and cultural co-operation from Asia through Africa and on to Europe. I believe it will emerge as a driving force of the world economy in this 21st century.

     Allow me, over the next few minutes, to share with you some of my thoughts on how Hong Kong can support Slovenian business, and how we can help you capitalise on the wealth of opportunities emerging from the Belt and Road Initiative.

     Through the Belt and Road Initiative, we expect to see soaring investments in infrastructural facilities, deepening financial integration, expanding trade and the building of people-to-people bonds on a global scale. The Belt and Road Initiative covers various aspects and proposes co-operation in many sectors, but fundamentally the Initiative is about making connections. And I am proud to say that facilitating connections is also what Hong Kong is good at. This is how we see Hong Kong will contribute to, and benefit from, the Belt and Road blueprint.

     Hong Kong may play this facilitator role perfectly, thanks to the unique advantages presented by our "one country, two systems" arrangement I mentioned earlier. When you are in Hong Kong, you are in China - but a Special Administrative Region of China that provides the combined advantages of "one country" and "two systems". Hong Kong is an international gateway to Mainland China, offering unique physical and intangible connectivity to the Mainland with privileged trade and social access. On the other hand, Hong Kong has a well-established system that connects us to the international community in terms of our legal system, language, trade practices as well as lifestyle which international traders are familiar with.
     Traders in all sectors, and from all jurisdictions, can trade freely in Hong Kong. And all persons, businesses and organisations, regardless of their nationality, are treated exactly the same. Every business in Hong Kong can enjoy the same privileges and benefits provided by our international agreements.

     Consider, for example, CEPA (the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement), Hong Kong's free-trade agreement with the Mainland of China. CEPA provides preferential treatment to Hong Kong service providers, regardless of nationality, as well as tariff-free treatment for products that have been conferred the Hong Kong origin. Working with Hong Kong, Slovenian companies can gain the same access to the markets of the Mainland. It's your ticket to the massive Chinese consumer market and its fast-rising middle class.

     "One country, two systems" has made Hong Kong the "super-connector", bringing together the rest of China and the rest of the world, and that, of course, includes economies along the Belt and Road. This also makes us a magnet for business - at last count, over 8 000 international companies have commercial presence in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has always been a preferred venue for hosting regional headquarters or trading offices for multinational companies to manage their businesses in the Asia Pacific. And I hereby invite more Slovenian companies to come to Hong Kong and make full use of our advantages in tapping the massive Belt and Road markets. 

     Aside from trade, logistics is another key area that has been driving Hong Kong's development as an international business centre. The Belt and Road will catalyse the movement of people and goods, boosting demand for reliable logistics services. In this, Hong Kong is also well served. Indeed, Hong Kong boasts the world's fifth busiest container port, providing some 350 services a week to more than 500 destinations worldwide. Our 700 shipping-related companies offer a wide range of services, from ship management, broking and chartering to finance, marine insurance, legal, arbitration and many other support services. Our airport has been the busiest cargo airport in the world for more than 15 years. From Hong Kong, you can reach all major Asian economies within four hours' flight time. Half the world's population is just five hours away. The Maritime Silk Road will create fresh demand for shipping services. Slovenian logistics companies will find it advantageous to establish a presence in Hong Kong, using our maritime services to tap into the markets of the Belt and Road.

     Among the Belt and Road's main goals is promoting big-ticket infrastructural development, from highways and railways to maritime and aviation transport, as well as telecommunications and energy projects. Hong Kong certainly will have a lot to offer and the expertise to share when it comes to international co-operation on infrastructural projects envisaged under the Belt and Road. Why? Because we have a deep pool of talented professionals, from engineers and surveyors to architects, designers and planners, not to mention other professionals specialised in financing, insurance, arbitration, risk management and project consulting. All of them are experienced and eager to partner with overseas businesses, including Slovenian companies, to take part in the development, management and operation of infrastructural projects under the Belt and Road Initiative.

     Other than professional services, financial services will of course be another important area for co-operation under the Belt and Road. Hong Kong is China's international financial centre and we are also one of the leading financial centres in the world. We have the experience, the expertise and the connections to serve as the fund-raising and financial management hub for the Belt and Road. 

     Ladies and gentlemen, Hong Kong has what you need in a strategic partner for the 21st century. We welcome Slovenian investment and talent. In Hong Kong, you can take advantage of our low taxes, our world-class business environment and our reassuring legal system, as well as our knowledge in tapping the massive Asian markets.

     The Belt and Road will be built on collaboration - on deepening the bonds between nations, economies and cultures. The opportunities before us are in abundance. I look forward to joining hands with our friends in Slovenia to realise the opportunities ahead.

     My thanks to the HKTDC and Berlin ETO for hosting and supporting today's business luncheon. Thank you so much for bringing us together today. I look forward to welcoming our Slovenian friends to Hong Kong. And I hope to visit this captivating city again soon. Thank you.

Ends/Monday, April 3, 2017
Issued at HKT 20:40