The American Chamber to CY Leung: Save our ports, recognise foreign same-sex partnerships, HKTB’s PR firms failing HK

American style, AmCham calls for Hong Kong to be visionary, relevant and influential. Human rights, improving port competitiveness, red tape problems, improving HK’s image abroad and rule of law are important to the American business community.

Photo: Chris Lusher


 

The American Chamber of Commerce of Hong Kong is the biggest international Chamber in Hong Kong and its companies are huge drivers of employment and investment in Asia’s World City.

Simply put, the views of its members matter.

From the British and Canadian Chamber recommendations, HT now turns to the States. Titled “Looking Ahead: Vision, Relevance & Influence”, the American Chamber (AmCham) sticks with tried and true – and ventures into controversial new ground with recommendations that Hong Kong recognise same-sex marriage for the purpose of working visas and tackles the diminishing competitiveness of Hong Kong’s ports due to government action – or inaction.

Boldly American style, the Chamber aims for its home to be “visionary, relevant and influential” and outlines policies it believes will get the city there.

 

Rule of Law, political stability and equal rights

the Chamber… closely followed “the events of September-December 2014” and believed there were ‘deep implications’

the Chamber urges the Hong Kong Government to recognise foreign same-sex, legally recognised domestic partnerships and marriages

While avoiding the use of the word ‘umbrella’ or ‘localism’ – two discrete phenomena – the Chamber let it be known that it had closely followed “the events of September-December 2014” and believed there were ‘deep implications’ posed by “the [unspecified] movement itself, as well as the way it was handled.” They indicated that events held to examine the situation featured the “importance of an independent judiciary was a recurring theme in these events.”

Meanwhile, following last June’s landmark US Supreme Court decision to legalise gay marriage across the United States, the Chamber urges the Hong Kong Government to recognise foreign same-sex, legally recognised domestic partnerships and marriages “in order to maintain Hong Kong’s status as an international financial center and compete on the global stage”. The Chamber sees this as an issue of competitiveness, stating, “Hong Kong must have a level playing field to enable our world class industries to nurture, recruit and retain the best talent who are free from differential treatment.”

 

On Copyright Amendment Bill

There have been rumours suggesting that Washington is the driving force behind the Copyright Amendment Bill 2014, which currently faces fierce filibustering from pan-Dems in the LegCo and lacklustre support from the pro-establishment camp . Undeterred by potential accusations of ‘foreign influence’ in Hong Kong politics, the Chamber (and the American Consulate General) is steadfast in supporting the passage of the bill, calling it “a significant step forward in improving the environment for the creative and innovation industries in Hong Kong.”

 

Ports: 88,000 families going adrift?

AmCham raises cautions over losing the city’s shipping and port businesses, the mainstay of 88,000 families in Hong Kong, to its nearby rivals

In a three-page long assertion that span across several sections, AmCham raises cautions over losing the city’s shipping and port businesses, the mainstay of 88,000 families in Hong Kong, to its nearby rivals with weaker environmental regulations. They do encourage the establishment a PRD Emissions Control Area, whereby neighbouring ports like Shenzhen would join a common agreement on environmental standards so ports don’t engage in a ‘beggar thy dirty neighbour’ behaviour with the ports competing for business by having lax environmental rules and thereby cheaper costs.

They also encouraged more effective use of land surrounding ports, commending first steps while stating much more needs to be done to bring the yard to berth land ratio (currently 11.6 hectares per berth) in line with the international average (25 hectares per berth).

Reform of container trucking rules were encouraged, with suggestions that the 7 year experience rule be scrapped in favour of driving testing for licensing. The industry is plagued with labour shortages and the situation is only expected to worsen. Another recommendation was to allow mainland drivers to apply for relevant licenses in Hong Kong so they could work on both sides of the border, reducing industry costs.

In particular, the Chamber backs shipping lines’ efforts to seek an exemption from the Competition Ordinance for the operational consolidation of cargo on vessels as part of their alliances terms.

 

Red tape shakedown

While the Canadian Chamber focused on press freedom as a freedom of speech issue, AmCham had commercial free speech in its sights. It believes that the suggested total ban on all marketing and promotion activities of infant formula products for children under 36 months “not only would result in a ‘no-win’ situation for consumers, trade, and the society but the deviation from international standards and practices in other developed markets would affect the free trade image of Hong Kong sending a negative signal to global investors.”

Other product areas/issues under concern include drug registration regulations that made it hard to bring new lifesaving drugs to market due to the adoption of a multiple Certificate of Pharmaceutical Products (CPP) instead of a single CPP requirement, the norm in many advanced nations including Singapore, Korea and Taiwan.

Concerns about excessive tobacco packaging restrictions raised the spectre of a “dangerous precedent of over-regulation of legitimate products by substantially depriving the rights of trademark owners and exposing Hong Kong to violations of treaty obligations which set international standards on the protection of intellectual property rights.”

 

Hong Kong as a ‘Smart City’

AmCham proposes the establishment of a cross-departmental Smart City Development Council that is “tasked with authority and responsibilities to map out the strategic direction of Hong Kong as a smart city, lead and expedite cooperation among relevant bureaus, departments and government agencies, and facilitate discussion and collaboration among public, private and other relevant stakeholders”.

 

More mainland students wanted

AmCham advocates bringing in more mainland students to study in international business schools in Hong Kong by relaxing the immigration provisions for student visas. It also recommends more collaboration between secondary schools in Hong Kong and colleges/high schools in Shenzhen to create “synergies”.

 

A la Picard: Engage! (with the region)

As a US-led initiative, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is one that AmCham would like to see Hong Kong’s participation in it, either as a non-sovereign party or as an observer. The Chamber suggests that the government consider “taking an active role to explore the potential of matching the relevant trading services and/or goods within TPP to relevant areas of OBOR [‘One Belt, One Road’]”

The Chamber also urges Hong Kong to join the Asia Regional Funds Passport (ARFP) initiative. It is an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) initiative that will facilitate a single financial market in Asia, with an expected launch date of late 2016.

 

Tourism Board: Fire your PR firms, they’re lousy

The Hong Kong Tourism Board’s vendor selection process came under fire for poor selection of PR agencies abroad.

On tourism, AmCham proposes a number of measures to raise Hong Kong’s perceived image from a “business destination and a busy, polluted city” to a “dynamic, exciting and relevant modern city” through a rebranding campaign.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board’s vendor selection process came under fire for poor selection of PR agencies abroad. Baldly stated, “We have had feedback from our overseas PR agencies that HKTB is not active in some high-end markets such as Germany, Switzerland, UK and US. The local PR agencies used by HKTB are also not even very well known in their local markets or are based in 3rd tier cities.”

Suggesting Hong Kong could become a centre of international sporting events, the Chamber proposes the following initiatives:

  1. Formula 3 night races;
  2. An international society horse racing event such as Melbourne Cup or Royal Ascot;
  3. Take advantage of the spectacular harbor for an international yacht race such as the America’s Cup/Cowes Week, an international level cross-harbor swim, or a Triathlon festival;
  4. Outdoor sports events such as rollerblading, skateboarding, jogging and cycling; and
  5. International sports stars could be appointed as ambassadors for Hong Kong.

The Chamber suggests building a “spectacular high pedestrian bridge linking Hong Kong and Kowloon at the Lei Yue Mun gap, which would offer spectacular views from the Eastern end of the harbor [Am. sp.] (example of Brooklyn Bridge which attracts a huge number of visitors or Sydney Harbor Bridge).”
Visionary indeed!

the author

Alex Fok is a Harbour Times journalist monitoring Hong Kong's daily political scene and diplomatic updates. He obtained his bachelor's degree in Economics, Politics and International Studies from University of Warwick and his master's degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is a former committee member of the Warwick-based Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Service Society (WHKPASS) and was the chief editor of the society's magazine - PASSTIMES.