While Hong Kong has long been a gateway for foreigners trading goods with mainland China, it has now become a key location for soliciting investment from the world’s second largest economy.
Since Tsingtao beer became the first mainland company to list on a Hong Kong stock exchange in 1993, Chinese firms have steadily used the city as a springboard for raising funds and expanding globally.
Now 640 mainland companies are listed on Hong Kong exchanges, said Anita Chan, director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York.
That makes the city a convenient recruiting ground for Americans, who are increasingly looking at the mainland as a source of investment dollars rather than cheap labor, Ms. Chan said during a visit to Atlanta Sept. 7.
“Hong Kong really is the place where foreign companies and Chinese companies meet. Of course, you can go to China and you should to visit them, but in Hong Kong there is a one-stop platform,” she said.
During a small luncheon at the Capital City Club, Ms. Chan provided an update on Hong Kong’s economy as it celebrates 15 years since being returned to the mainland by Britain.
Contrary to predictions that the handover would be the death knell for a prosperous port city, the so-called “one country, two systems” policy left the territory’s legal traditions and individual freedoms intact while deepening its trade ties with the mainland.
The recent election of Leung Chun-ying as chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, however, has led to fears among some Hong Kong citizens that the two sides are growing too close for comfort.
Ms. Chan was emphatic that Hong Kong’s ability to balance its ideals with greater economic integration would continue to be the “bedrock of our success.”
She noted that states like Alabama have started considering putting their Chinese investment offices in Hong Kong, Ms. Chan said.
She doesn’t believe doing so would ruffle the feathers of any potential mainland investors, calling it a “win-win-win” situation. Georgia has an economic office in Beijing and will soon open one in Qingdao.
Building on its history as China’s front door to the world, Hong Kong has also become the beachhead for the Chinese government’s effort to slowly loosen restrictions on its currency, the yuan, Ms. Chan said.
Foreign companies can settle trade in yuan, or renminbi, through Hong Kong bank accounts. They can also issue bonds on Hong Kong markets denominated in renminbi to fund their China operations at a lower cost than borrowing directly from mainland banks, she said. United Parcel Service Inc. announced in June that it would issue commercial paper to raise the equivalent of $100 million using offshore renminbi in Hong Kong.
Although few American firms have been awakened to this financial vehicle, trade has continued to flourish between the United States and Hong Kong, which bought $37 billion in U.S. products in 2011.
A boom in the wine industry, fueled by the removal of wine duties in 2008, shows that Hong Kong is more than a waypoint for goods on their way to the mainland, Ms. Chan said. World wine imports into Hong Kong grew to $1.2 billion last year, up 40 percent from the year before. U.S. wines accounted for $75 million. Ms. Chan suggested that Georgia wine producers attend this year’s Hong Kong Wine and Dine festival in November.
She noted that the state serves as an example of Hong Kong’s appetite for American agricultural goods. Georgia’s nearly $930 million in exports to the territory included peanuts, pecans and lots of chicken feet.
As it continues major infrastructure projects including a massive bridge to the mainland city of Zhuhai, and the expansion of a high-speed rail line to that will link with Guangzhou and on to Beijing, Hong Kong will continue to buy transportation equipment from Georgia as well, Ms. Chan said.
A frequent visitor to Atlanta during her two years in New York, Ms. Chan also came to preside over the 17th annual Atlanta Dragon Boat Festival, which is sponsored by her office.
More than 7,000 people turned out to the Olympic venue at Lake Lanier, where 72 teams of up to 22 rowers competed in long boats festooned with dragon heads. Companies, colleges and social groups from around the Southeast participated.
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council will host a business seminar discussing some of the above issues, including renminbi commercialization, technology and logistics, on Oct. 4 in Atlanta. Click here to learn more.
To learn more about Hong Kong or Ms. Chan, visit http://www.hketony.gov.hk/ny/index.htm.