The Hong Kong SAR Government’s mission to the Middle East last month marked an important step towards expanding our cooperation and relationship with this relatively untapped market for Hong Kong businesses.
It was also an opportunity for our Chief Executive John Lee to tell “good stories” about Hong Kong and let Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates know that we are eager to develop our relationship with the region. The timing couldn’t have been better as we had just reopened and launched the Hello Hong Kong campaign.
In the past, for historical reasons, Hong Kong focused its attention on the Mainland, Europe and America, so we have always been very comfortable dealing with these markets. Similarly, countries in the Middle East also looked to their familiar markets. Therefore, their level of knowledge about how to do business with the Mainland or Hong Kong is not very high, and vice versa.
But during this mission, it was clear that countries, chambers of commerce and businesses in the Middle East were eager to build stronger ties with Hong Kong. With countries in the region looking to diversify their economies away from oil and to be more sustainable, they have set ambitious goals. Saudi Arabia, for example, has set a target of having 50% of its power generated from renewable sources by 2030 and to be net zero by 2060. In an increasingly fragmented world, they are also broadening their markets and industries to reduce geopolitical risks.
Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are investing heavily in sustainability, and innovation & technologies to be their new economic drivers. They are also looking to diversify their investments by allocating more capital to Mainland China and considering secondary listings on Hong Kong’s Stock Exchange.
The mission highlighted that the flow of investment is a two-way street. There are also a lot of opportunities for our companies to expand their markets into the Middle East, which was underscored by the number of successful Hong Kong professional services providers and employees that we met there. Moreover, a lot of Mainland companies are already established there as part of the Belt & Road initiative and diversification strategy.
The mission was an important first step towards improving mutual trust and understanding on both sides. During a number of meetings we attended, I spoke with several senior women executives who said Saudi Arabia was more liberal than most people believed, and that I shouldn’t believe everything that I read in the media!
The Memorandum of Understanding that I signed with the Riyadh Chamber during the trip was also an important step to bringing us closer together and will help correct pre-conceived misperceptions. Going forward, we will be looking to collaborate with our new Saudi friends to help members of both chambers bridge the cultural and knowledge gap and explore new opportunities.