Asean-Hong Kong free trade agreement on track to be inked this year

The Hong Kong International Terminals in Kwai Tsing, Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong International Terminals in Kwai Tsing, Hong Kong.PHOTO: HUTCHISON PORT HOLDINGS

SINGAPORE - The free trade agreement between Hong Kong and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is on track to be inked this year.

"After around three years of negotiations, we would love to conclude and sign the free trade agreement with Asean within this year," said Hong Kong's secretary for financial services and the treasury K C Chan on Thursday (June 8).

He was speaking to 400 guests, mainly businessmen, at a gala dinner marking the 20th anniversary of the special administrative region, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The event was organised by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Singapore, and attended by Mr Chen Xiaodong, China's ambassador to Singapore.

Professor Chan's remarks follow that of other Hong Kong lawmakers and officials, who have also said in recent months that negotiations over the trade pact are in the final stages.

Asean is Hong Kong's second largest trading partner after mainland China.

Greater cooperation between Hong Kong and Asean was a key theme of the speeches by Prof Chan and Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong at the dinner.

Mr Wong said that Singapore and Hong Kong are in healthy competition with each other, which spurs both sides to strive to be better and offer more value to companies and investors.

"But the competition is not a zero sum game. Asia is the fastest growing region in the world and the market is big enough for both our economies to thrive," added Mr Wong, who is also Second Finance Minister.

Both leaders cited infrastructure as an area where countries can work together.

Said Prof Chan: "We will continue to establish closer ties with Asean on all fronts, to echo the central government (of China's) Belt and Road initiative."

The multi-billion dollar initiative is a massive infrastructure network to connect China with South-east Asia by sea, and with Asia and Europe by land.

Mr Wong noted that Asia is expected to need US$26 trillion ($36 trillion) worth of investment from now to 2030 for utilities, power, telecommunications and transportation.

He called this a unique opportunity for Singapore and Hong Kong to work together to develop new financing solutions, to meet the needs of the region.

Singapore and Hong Kong are both members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, meant to fund the infrastructure network under the Belt and Road initiative, and the Asian Development Bank.

"We both can also use these platforms to exchange views, and to mobilise more private sector funds towards infrastructural assets in the region," said Mr Wong.