Sunday, 2 August 2015

HK welcomes talent

Secretary for Labour & Welfare Matthew Cheung

Many economies are still experiencing the lingering effects of the global financial gloom that began in 2008. The world economic outlook is still clouded by considerable uncertainty and remains volatile.


Despite the tight labour markets and low unemployment rates in the more robust economies, youth unemployment rates are invariably far higher than the overall figures. Graduate unemployment remains a problem in many places, as is the issue of an apparent slowing down in upward social mobility.


Hong Kong is no exception. Whilst our latest overall unemployment rate for the period April to June 2015 remained at a low level of 3.2%, which is close to full employment, that of youths aged between 20 and 24 stood at 10.1%.


Hong Kong is a tiny dot on the map of East Asia. We are a small and externally oriented economy with a population of 7.2 million. However, Hong Kong is a leading international financial and business centre, a premier logistics and aviation hub, as well as an international maritime centre. 


Hong Kong is widely regarded as the freest economy in the world and a highly competitive economy. We are well known for our world-class infrastructure, low and simple tax regime, robust banking and financial system, an abundant supply of highly skilled professionals and good corporate governance. We operate a level playing field where local and international companies compete on an equal footing.


We have a free and open society, underpinned firmly by an independent judiciary and the rule of law. We enjoy the free flow of information, freedom of expression and association, as well as a free press. Ours is a pluralistic society where issues are fiercely debated on a daily basis.


As a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China since July 1, 1997, Hong Kong has been operating successfully and admirably well under the cardinal and innovative principle of "one country, two systems". This gives us unique advantages and allows us to enjoy the benefits of being part of a rising China which serves as our economic hinterland, whilst retaining our inherent strengths and features.


When you are in Hong Kong, you are in the southern tip and doorstep of China. But then Hong Kong is not just any Chinese city, because we practise "the other system" that provides us with distinct advantages compared to other Chinese cities. Under the nomenclature of "Hong Kong, China", we can take part in our own right in key international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation and Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation.


As an open, international, cosmopolitan city, Hong Kong welcomes talents, professionals and entrepreneurs from all over the world. We have various admission schemes to facilitate their entry to work, live and settle here.


If you are contemplating where to start your career or find an internship, our door is always wide open and the opportunities we offer are promising.


As one of the international financial and business hubs, Hong Kong has always been known for our high connectivity with different parts of the world. We have been playing the key role of a "super-connector" between Mainland business enterprises and the rest of the world simply because Hong Kong understands both the Mainland and global interests. This understanding has been our core competence for several decades. Our unique position as the "Chief Knowledge Officer" can help Mainland enterprises "go global".


Hong Kong's world-famous Victoria Harbour skyline and our fast pace of life give you only a glimpse of the hectic lifestyle of an international financial centre. In stark contrast to the city's concrete jungle lie our big "green lungs". In fact, it is worth noting that over 70% of Hong Kong's total land mass comprises countryside and hilly areas and 40% is officially protected as country parks and marine parks, where a wide variety of flora and fauna are housed.


Our exotic and exciting food scene best illustrates Hong Kong's East-meets-West culture. As you walk into a typical local tea cafe (known as "cha chaan teng"), you will find a diverse range of reasonably priced and affordable food items on offer, from sizzling sirloin steak, Chinese steamed fish and dim sum, Indian curry and Russian borscht soup to French toast, all made into a distinct Hong Kong style incorporating both authentic and local flavours. This fusion menu underlines the openness, diversity, creativity and pragmatism of this dynamic and cosmopolitan city.


Whilst Hong Kong is no doubt a largely affluent society, with our Gross Domestic Product per capita currently at about US$40,000, we do have our fair share of social problems. A rapidly ageing population, a shrinking labour force and the poverty situation are but a few of the challenges that make Hong Kong both typical and unique as a living workshop for aspiring leaders like you to develop your problem-solving skills and learn how to contribute to fostering a caring community.


Tackling head-on the dual challenge of an ageing population and a dwindling workforce, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government has recently mapped out a holistic population strategy. The game plan consists of some 50 initiatives to promote sustainable growth, unleash the potential of the local workforce, nurture home-grown talents, attract foreign talents, and embrace the opportunities of a growing "silver hair" market. We are also striving to improve the livelihood of our senior citizens such that they can spend their golden years meaningfully and age gracefully in a dignified manner.


We always believe that proper planning and the right strategies can turn challenges into opportunities. Our aim is to help those who are in need and to give ample room and opportunities for those who can to realise their potential to the full.


To build a caring, fair and compassionate society for all, we channel almost 60% of our recurrent government expenditure into education, social welfare and health - the three main livelihood areas. We put poverty alleviation at the top of our policy agenda. Our strategy is to ensure that we have a reasonable and sustainable social security and welfare system in place for those in need. And, no less important, we should encourage able-bodied young people and adults to become self-reliant and economically productive through employment.


As part of the Government's concerted efforts to tackle poverty and enhance support for the vulnerable, we have introduced the Statutory Minimum Wage, set up the high-powered Commission on Poverty, devised an official poverty line, and rolled out a host of measures targeted at the needy, including the Old Age Living Allowance which has benefitted some 40% of our senior citizens. We will launch the Low-income Working Family Allowance in the first half of next year. This is designed to promote employment and ease child poverty. This flagship policy measure will benefit some 710,000 grass-roots citizens or nearly one-tenth of our population. It is expected to go a long way towards alleviating working poverty.


There is no denying that the current-term Government is investing heavily in welfare and poverty alleviation, and rightly so. Welfare spending in this financial year will amount to HK$60 billion (US$7.7 billion), representing a significant 18.4% of total government recurrent expenditure, just after education, which accounts for the lion's share. But let me hasten to say that we will stop short of going down the road of welfarism. We will not, and should not, adopt a populist approach. That said, we need to do our best to foster a caring society and help the needy. I must admit that this is a fine balancing act and not an easy one to achieve. In building a caring community, we are stepping up our efforts in mobilising the community and enlisting their support. We are leaving no stones unturned in promoting cross-sectoral collaboration among the business sector - riding on the wave of the growing awareness and acceptance of corporate social responsibility, non-governmental organisations, the academia, the professions and the Government.


Young people are our future and our future is in your hands. You are to change it, to shape it and to make it better. As you begin to plan for your future, do remember that Hong Kong is happy to be your starting point and launching pad, your collaborator and even your home.


Secretary for Labour & Welfare Matthew Cheung gave these remarks at the 6th University Scholars Leadership Symposium.

Otmane El Rhazi
Department of Commerce
Economic Development
Text/Mobile, +44 7414 782 320

Saturday, 25 July 2015

More options offered for youths

Financial Secretary John Tsang

I'm delighted to lend my full support to the Hong Kong team heading to São Paulo, Brazil to compete in the 43rd WorldSkills Competition.


This biennial competition is the world's largest professional education event, involving more than 1,200 participants from all over the world and competing in 50 events showcasing their skills.


Hong Kong will be sending the largest-ever 18-strong team to compete in 16 events, ranging from graphic design technology, beauty therapy and wall and floor tiling to painting and decorating and also web design. And, for the first time, the team will take part in competitions in joinery, as well as patisserie and confectionery.


With the increasingly specialised division of labour in different sectors in our society, the demand for specialised talents with specific skills and expertise is also rising. I have, in light of this trend, in my last two Budgets allocated additional resources to strengthen vocational education and training. We have also launched targeted training programmes for specific trades and industries, including construction, retail, clock and watch, printing, health care, as well as testing and certification.


I believe these measures would help our young people understand better the development path and prospects of various professions, and offer them more diversified options in pursuing their chosen career goals. These targeted training programmes are also imperative in providing a pool of talents with the right calibre and expertise that can meet Hong Kong's future needs in economic development.


We are also working to provide more internship opportunities for our young people so that they can have a sampling of the real work environment. The exposure is extremely valuable and would help hone their skills and prepare them for the job market. The Vocational Training Council has to this end provided internship programmes for some 9,000 students a year.


All 18 members of the Hong Kong team are champions who have excelled in the Hong Kong Competition held in 2014. I wish them the best of luck in the upcoming world competition in Brazil. You are already winners. Value the experience in this very special journey and enjoy yourselves. Good luck.


Financial Secretary John Tsang gave these remarks at the flag presentation ceremony for the Hong Kong delegation to WorldSkills São Paulo 2015 in Sha Tin.

Otmane El Rhazi
Department of Commerce
Economic Development
Text/Mobile, +44 7414 782 320

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Belt-Road will drive global economy

Financial Secretary John Tsang

The global economy has long been yearning for a vision that is powerful enough to create the necessary momentum to bring us out of the global financial gloom that began in 2008. The world economic outlook, as we speak, is still clouded by considerable uncertainties and volatilities. Demand in the advanced economies remains lackluster. Growth potential anemic. The key markets are expected to encounter varying degrees of economic slowdown this year. But we do see this glimmer of hope along the not so distant horizon.


The One Belt, One Road initiative can provide the world economy with a fresh and much-needed impetus to the otherwise mundane global growth outlook. Judging from the overwhelming participation by nations from different continents in the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the AIIB, which is the key financial institution supporting the development of the Belt-Road initiative, I think it is apparent that the global market regards this vision as the driving force for the world economy in the coming years.


HK’s advantages

I have every confidence that Hong Kong can help implement and help deliver in full the enormous possibilities and opportunities presented by the Belt-Road initiative. We have all it takes, from the perspectives of history, geography, financial and human resources, market infrastructure and network, as well as business and professional know-hows, to contribute to the successful and sustainable development of this valuable package.


Hong Kong is blessed with the unique advantages offered by the "One Country, Two Systems" framework.  We enjoy a special intimate working relationship with the Mainland. As one of the international financial and business hubs of the world, we are extensively-connected with markets around the world. These attributes firmly place us as the principal gateway connecting the Mainland market with the 60 plus economies along the Belt-Road, in particular those emerging economies that dominate the landscape.


For us in Hong Kong, the Belt-Road initiative is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that brings to us and to the world in an unprecedented way immense business opportunities. To put things in context, the Belt-Road initiative could likely be the guiding path for us, for our economic development for the next 30, or even 50 years.


Hong Kong's pillar industries - trade and logistics, financial services, professional services as well as tourism - together with some of our emerging industries, including the creative and technology sectors, all stand to benefit from different aspects of the Belt-Road initiative.


Hong Kong is an international business centre that boasts an extensive market network. Business conventions and exhibitions, some of which are the largest of their kind in the world, are staged right here in Hong Kong. Coupled with our status as Asia's major aviation and maritime hub, we are the premier centre for business facilitation and high-end logistics services.


On the finance side, Hong Kong is the world's largest offshore renminbi business centre and Asia's largest asset management centre. The financing options that are offered here in Hong Kong, from public offerings and loan syndication, to private equity funds and raising funds through Islamic finance have already attracted a large pool of quality capital seeking reasonable returns. Hong Kong's financial sector can serve the Belt-Road initiative by providing countries with the necessary funds for infrastructural and business development at reasonable cost.


Professionals and experts

Another one of Hong Kong's prominent strengths is the large pool of world-class professionals with expertise in areas such as accounting, law, architecture, engineering management and more. These professionals boast the requisite competence and experience to lead consultancies, construction projects, operations and management of the many infrastructural projects under the Belt-Road initiative.


I am certain all the legal experts present here today would agree that with our well-recognised and robust legal system, Hong Kong is the ideal centre for resolving potential commercial disputes arising from business collaborations and inevitable disagreements among different parties.


Tourist attraction

Hong Kong has always been a popular destination for tourists. Last year, we welcomed over 60 million visitors. As a shopping paradise and a culinary capital, Hong Kong will have plenty of appeal to people living along the Belt-Road.


Beyond our traditional pillar industries, Hong Kong can also take up, for example, the role as the training hub in the region for developing talents for emerging economies. Potential new markets will also open up for our technology and creative sectors, including the film and cultural industries, our education and healthcare services as well as product testing and certification services.


To translate the potential of the Belt-Road initiative into economic benefits, I think it is important for us to follow three guiding principles.


Development guideline

First of all, we must abide by market rules, and let the market decide what is the most efficient way to allocate resources, to pursue reasonable returns, and to manage risks in a prudent manner. The Government, on the other hand, should play the part of facilitator, and engage itself in a more active role only when the market has found it difficult to operate.


Secondly, we should seek to achieve long-term, sustainable benefits for all the participants in different collaborations under the Belt-Road initiative. The services offered and products generated should be environment-friendly, as well as commercially viable.


Finally, we must ensure fair and equitable treatment of capital regardless of origin. This, in a way, will reinforce the credibility and sustainability of the collaborations under the Belt-Road initiative.


With the collective wisdom of the business sector, academia and governmental organisations, we can seek to understand more about the different perspectives of the Belt-Road initative, and become better prepared in consolidating ourselves in seizing the opportunities ahead of us.


Financial Secretary John Tsang gave this speech at "One Belt One Road" International Forum.

Otmane El Rhazi
Department of Commerce
Economic Development
Text/Mobile, +44 7414 782 320