Way forward for Greater Bay Area proposed in study backed by powerful businesses in Hong Kong

Although the Greater Bay Area of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau offers job opportunities, there are concerns about the quality of life, with less freedom on the mainland. PHOTO: REUTERS

Hong Kong - More affordable Hong Kong-style developments can be created to encourage people from the city to work and live in the Greater Bay Area of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau, a study commissioned by the territory's influential businesses said.

The study conducted under non-profit organisation 2022 Foundation noted that affordability and connectivity to the territory would help attract Hong Kong retailers, eateries, schools and medical clinics to serve the professionals in the developments as well as residents in the bay area.

This was among a list of suggestions in the report titled Creating a Greater Bay Area of the Future - Opportunities for Hong Kong, released on Friday.

The study was commissioned in May last year by nine large firms in Hong Kong, including the likes of Alibaba, Hony Capital, Lan Kwai Fong Group, HSBC, Tencent and Wing Tai Properties.

Although the bay area offers job opportunities, there are concerns about the quality of life, with less freedom on the mainland.

When asked at a forum on Friday (March 29), the foundation's chairman Victor Fung said the Greater Bay Area offers additional options to young people in Hong Kong.

"It's the idea of being able to enjoy a slightly different lifestyle and frankly, I have to say, I'm Hong Kong born and bred, fourth generation here, (but) some aspects of Hong Kong life needs to be improved. So let's not assume that the most superior form of living and environment is here and anything else is inferior."

Mr Fung, who is also group chairman of Fung Group, a Hong Kong-based conglomerate dealing in sourcing, logistics, distribution and retailing, stressed that this was a "once in a generation" opportunity for Hong Kong to reinvent itself and develop new roles in areas such as digital supply chains, artificial intelligence and big data analysis for the Greater Bay Area and even beyond.

"I think increasingly the Greater Bay Area will be aligned to the international system and I think Hong Kong will play a very critical role in helping the entire Greater Bay Area align to the international system and I think that's frankly where China and the whole country wants to go also," said Mr Fung.

To improve the flow of goods and services within the Greater Bay Area, the 11 cities involved in the plan can build on the free trade agreement initiated in 2003 - the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa).

"The two separate customs territories in this free trade agreement are able to maintain their own external trade regimes with third parties and to manage these through rules of origin," the study said.

On enhancing business cooperation, it proposed that Hong Kong be the global data hub for the Greater Bay Area, what it describes as "a data Switzerland" where consumer and other data that originate from inside and outside the bay area can be analysed together.

"The issue is whether a set of rules can be worked out that allows access in Hong Kong to some Chinese data that presently is not available outside the Chinese mainland," the report said.

Other suggestions made in the study include coming up with apprenticeship programmes designed around the bay area's workforce needs for young people in Hong Kong who have not gone to universities, linking up businesses and universities across the bay area for the higher professions, as well as setting up a dedicated chamber of commerce to further cross-boundary interests of its members.

The study was carried out by a team of international economists led by Professor Michael Enright, a specialist in the competitiveness of Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta area.

It has been submitted to the government and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday said the government would refer to the report when formulating policies with other cities in the bay area.

The Greater Bay Area is the brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and it involves creating a world-class cluster that could rival other bay areas in Tokyo, New York and San Francisco. The ambitious plan seeks to link up nine Chinese cities in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau, to drive innovation and technology that will be an engine of growth for China.

The World Bank had said in 2015 that the Pearl River Delta region had overtaken Tokyo as the world's largest urban area in both size and population.

Based on current trajectories, it is estimated that by 2030, the Greater Bay Area economy will hit US $3.6 trillion, equal to that of Germany in 2017.

In February, Beijing unveiled the national strategy blueprint where Hong Kong is a designated finance, transport and trade centre; Macau is a tourism hub; Shenzhen is the Silicon valley of the East and Guangzhou is an international commerce and industry hub.

But critics have pointed out that the vast differences in tax, legal and immigration systems are hard to overcome.

For now, Beijing has promised lower taxes and more subsidies for professionals and entrepreneurs within the bay area to make it more equitable for talent and businesses from Hong Kong to work there although details are not available yet. A total of eight measures are expected to be rolled out this year.

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