After consulting with our membership, we have just submitted the Chamber's suggestions to Chief Executive Carrie Lam for consideration in her second Policy Address. We don't have earth-shattering new proposals, but what we can offer is a range of concrete ideas to tackle some of the long-term issues that are affecting Hong Kong's competitiveness.
Businesses in Hong Kong right now face bottlenecks in three key areas – regulatory, land and labour.
On the regulatory side, members have told us about having to deal with a confusing variety of rules at different Government departments – for example when constructing or redeveloping a building. That said, we are pleased to note that changes are afoot to address these inefficiencies; a review is being carried out to harmonise and streamline the existing development control regimes.
The land shortage makes it expensive for companies to operate offices and other commercial premises here, and high housing costs affects our ability to attract and keep the best talent. Which leads us to Hong Kong's manpower issues – with an unemployment rate of just 2.8%, comfortably below most definitions of "full employment," we are desperately short of labour across a wide range of sectors.
The good news is that many of these issues are not completely intractable, and the suggestions in our Policy Address submission are certainly achievable.
To retain our reputation as one of the best places in the world to do business, we need to reduce red tape, unnecessary regulation and other burdens on businesses. A Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) process is common practice in most developed economies, and would ensure that all new legislation and regulations are carefully assessed for their impact on business. We already have our Be the Smart Regulator programme, so a Hong Kong RIA seems like a natural next step.
The land issue is always going to be a tricky one, but it is also not impossible to find solutions. We suggest in our submission that brownfield areas and industrial sites should be first to be considered for development. This seems to be the most obvious option, and is also one that is more palatable to Hong Kong residents.
Land reclamation outside of Victoria Harbour is also an option. This would take time, but has the benefit of being free of all legacy issues, and is likely to be a necessary step if we are to secure enough land for a sustainable future.
Manpower is also tied up, to a certain extent, with the first two bottlenecks. Simplifying procedures for things like visa applications would help smooth the path for overseas workers. We need to make Hong Kong a more attractive city to attract top international professionals, and also to make it easier to import labour in the sectors where it is most desperately needed to ensure our continued economic success.
You can read more about our submission on page 10 of this issue. We sincerely hope that the Chief Executive will take our proposals on board when she delivers her Address in October, for the benefit of everyone in Hong Kong.