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LCQ14: Consolidating Hong Kong's status as international trade centre
     Following is a question by Dr the Hon Johnny Ng and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Algernon Yau, in the Legislative Council today (July 5):
     Regarding two of the indicators relating to International Trade Centre in the Annex: Indicators for Specified Tasks to the 2022 Policy Address, namely seeking early accession to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by holding or participating in 60 related events/meetings/dialogues to liaise with RCEP members and stakeholders in 2023, and promoting Hong Kong as the functional platform for the Belt and Road Initiative in 2023 through a series of work, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the details and latest progress of the authorities' aforesaid work to liaise with RCEP members and stakeholders (including the numbers and contents of related events/meetings/dialogues they have held or participated in and the member states they have liaised with so far), and whether it has assessed the effectiveness of such work;

(2) of the details and latest progress of the authorities' work to promote Hong Kong as the functional platform for the Belt and Road Initiative, including the numbers of related promotional programmes and networking sessions held in the first half of this year as well as the numbers of participants (with a tabulated breakdown by project), and whether it has assessed the effectiveness of such work; and

(3) of the latest progress of Hong Kong's accession to RCEP, and whether it has assessed if Hong Kong is able to accede to RCEP within this year as scheduled; the Middle East regions or emerging economies with which the Government will sign Free Trade Agreements as well as Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements; the new measures and plans the authorities have put in place to assist small and medium enterprises in exploring the markets of RCEP member states?
(1) The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) (Note 1) is the largest free trade agreement (FTA) in the world, covering about 30 per cent of both the global population and total gross domestic product. Hong Kong shares very close economic and trade connections with RCEP members, and has signed FTAs with 13 of the 15 RCEP members. In 2022, the total trade between Hong Kong and the 15 RCEP members amounted to around US$860 billion, accounting for over 70 per cent of Hong Kong's total trade. 
     Upon the entry into force of RCEP on January 1, 2022, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government has promptly submitted Hong Kong's formal accession request, and has proactively made use of various bilateral, regional and other fora, as well as events held by chambers of commerce and media organisations, to conduct lobbying work and seek to join RCEP as soon as practicable. We have received positive responses. In his 2022 Policy Address, the Chief Executive has set a key performance indicator of holding or participating in 60 related events/meetings/dialogues with RCEP members and stakeholders in 2023. As at June 23, the HKSAR Government has held or participated in 40 related events/meetings/dialogues, covering all RCEP members including government and business stakeholders. Relevant lobbying work is ongoing.
(2) The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) has been proactively consolidating Hong Kong's position as the functional platform and key link for the Belt and Road (B&R), and strengthening co-operation with countries and regions related to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), so as to open up a larger market for Hong Kong businesses. The Chief Executive led a high-level delegation in February 2023, comprising more than 30 representatives from various sectors, to visit the Middle East. The visit was fruitful with significant outcomes, including the launch of formal negotiations of an Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (IPPA) with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as the signing of 13 Memoranda of Understanding or Letters of Intent between Hong Kong entities and their Middle East counterparts, covering areas such as construction, finance, innovation and technology, trade and transportation. After the visit, the delegation has continued to follow up co-operation items under the B&R. In addition, the CEDB organised the second Policy Exchanges and Capacity Building Programme in June 2023, under the theme of "Green and Sustainable Development", with a view to promoting B&R policy exchanges between the HKSAR Government and the Mainland ministries through a series of thematic dialogues and on-site visits. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the BRI. The HKSAR Government is actively preparing for the eighth Belt and Road Summit, an annual signature event which is expected to draw thousands of leaders from the public and business sectors, and businesses and organisations from Mainland China, overseas and Hong Kong. The CEDB will also organise another Mainland enterprises exchange and interfacing event in the second half of 2023.
(3) As stipulated in the RCEP Agreement, it shall be open for accession by other states or separate customs territories 18 months after the date of entry into force of the Agreement and in accordance with the procedures to be adopted by the RCEP Joint Committee (JC). It is understood that preparatory work of the RCEP JC is still in progress. The HKSAR Government will closely monitor relevant developments, and seek commencement of negotiations and discussions with RCEP members as soon as practicable and strive to forge consensus among various sectors in different regions in support of Hong Kong's accession to RCEP.
     To complement the National 14th Five-Year Plan, and leverage Hong Kong's distinctive advantages of enjoying strong support of the motherland and being closely connected to the world, the HKSAR Government has been actively seeking to forge FTAs and IPPAs with our trading partners including those in the Middle East region and other regions along the B&R, with a view to injecting new impetus into Hong Kong's trade and investment. On FTAs, Hong Kong commenced bilateral FTA negotiations with Peru in January 2023, and both sides are aiming to reach a high quality and comprehensive agreement at the soonest possible time. We have also stepped up our contacts with economies with potential in the Middle East region (such as the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf Cooperation Council (Note 2)) with a view to exploring the possibility of entering into FTAs, whether bilaterally or regionally. On IPPAs, we are working intensively to conclude the negotiations with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia soon. At the same time, we have continued exploratory discussions with other potential IPPA partners in the Middle East and other regions along the B&R.
     In addition, the Government assists small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in exploring more diversified markets including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Among others, the Dedicated Fund on Branding, Upgrading and Domestic Sales provides funding support to SMEs to develop business in 37 economies with which Hong Kong has signed FTAs and/or IPPAs (including all ASEAN and RCEP member countries). To further assist Hong Kong businesses and investors in expanding their markets, the Government will provide additional funding totalling $550 million to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council in the five financial years starting from 2023-24. The additional funding aims to help Hong Kong enterprises seize opportunities arising from the BRI and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development and tap into emerging markets including the ASEAN, as well as to step up global promotional efforts.
     The Chief Executive is planning to lead a business delegation to visit some member states of the ASEAN, so as to assist Hong Kong businesses in seeking opportunities in the region and forge new avenues to success for the Hong Kong economy. 
Note 1: RCEP members include Mainland China, the 10 member states of the ASEAN (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), Australia, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand.
Note 2: The Gulf Cooperation Council comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Ends/Wednesday, July 5, 2023
Issued at HKT 15:38
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