In the advent of China's accession
to the WTO, the recently delivered Policy Address by
the Chief Executive has added impetus to the efforts
made by professionals trying to enter the China market.
The Chief Executive announced that:
- the Business and Services Promotional Unit under
the Commerce and Industry Bureau will co-ordinate
the efforts of relevant departments to offer active
- HK$100 million will be set aside to set up a support
fund, on an equal matching basis, for useful projects
that can enhance the standard of professional services
in Hong Kong, and
- the government undertakes to join hands with the
professions in promoting their services to open up
new markets in the Mainland and overseas.
I welcomed these initiatives in LegCo
on 17 October, but had also made clear that accountants
are not seeking financial assistance in competition
with the poor and needy. Nonetheless, I felt that the
support fund could be useful if managed independently
by the Government and applied to the research and training
efforts of professional bodies to enhance the knowledge,
linguistic skills and qualifications of professionals
in preparing themselves for the new economic era. The
fund should not be wasted, however, on superficial promotional
activities, with little or no specific business projects
As a matter of fact, I have been busy
lobbying for just these types of policy support from
the Government in meetings with the Chief Executive,
the Financial Secretary, the Secretary for Justice,
the Secretary for Financial Services and the Secretary
for Commerce and Industry for some time. My Policy Address
and Budget speeches of past years provide good evidence
of these efforts. But the real work has just begun.
During meetings with officials, I have
frequently cited the discussion paper released by the
HKSA earlier this year on the 'Anticipated Increase
in the Opportunities of Co-operation between the Accountancy
Profession in Hong Kong and the Mainland Emerging from
China's Impending Entry into the WTO'. I shall be working
closely with this group to see what practical proposals
may arise from it.
In the meantime, I have suggested that
in conjunction with the legal profession's efforts in
promoting Hong Kong as an international arbitration
and mediation centre, accountants could advocate to
promote Hong Kong as the springboard for overseas investments
in and out of China. We have the financial and legal
infrastructure, the professional skills and the global
network to provide a 'one-stop' service centre for both
Mainlanders and overseas investors.
I believe that accountants are not
looking for special privileges in seeking business opportunities
in China. However, one must recognise that China covers
a wide territory and in addition to language and cultural
barriers, there exist many arbitrary administrative
barriers to entry.
Especially for the smaller firms that
lack long-term capital funding and the chance to cultivate
business relationships inside China, the initial hurdle
can be great and the long-term business risks quite
unbearable. However, with the help of clear governmental
support, and hopefully a gradually improving business
environment inside China, these smaller firms may have
a chance to compete fairly with multinationals and their
I believe that the Hong Kong Government
could help to procure such a Memorandum of Understanding
or expressed Policy Statement from the highest authorities
in China which might help to speed up this process of
I do not believe that Hong Kong professionals
can avoid making great efforts on their own part. What
the Government can do is to open doors of opportunity
and provide a more certain and equitable business environment.
It is still up to us to develop a long-term business
strategy, invest in sourcing of business partners and
potential clients, staff training, brand name enhancement
and marketing. It takes time and first-hand knowledge
to build confidence in this new, but vast market with
almost unfathomed potential.
I can understand why many would hesitate
to make a move towards the China market at this point
in time. However, it is also evident that the open door
policy of China is already taking a toll on Hong Kong
before we can count our future unrealised benefits.
At only a fraction of the costs when
compared with developed countries, China acts like a
giant magnet in attracting foreign investment, creating
jobs and transferring technology to the eager working
population in China. This transfer of wealth is likely
to have significant impact for the entire Asia-Pacific
region in the foreseeable future. Hong Kong is taking
the brunt of the impact with investments, jobs and consumption
all draining across the border. Fierce competition is
already at our doorsteps!
Despite the looming economic recession,
people in Hong Kong still hoard away substantial savings,
which is not deployed to profitable investment projects.
We now have surplus manpower of skilled professionals,
contrasting sharply with the desperate shortages in
China. If we can remove the arbitrary barriers in between,
and give confidence to the people in Hong Kong, we have
potentially a mutually beneficial scenario for both
the Mainland and Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has already undergone drastic
economic restructuring in the last century. We thrived
on change. The people of Hong Kong have been pragmatic,
unyielding and never pessimistic. It is these qualities
and the readiness to embrace change that has built the
foundation of our present success. There is no reason
why we cannot do it once again!
Credit: Eric Li is the LegCo Accountancy
Functional Constituency Representative. For more information,
refer to his website at http://www.ericli.org.