The past year has been incredibly interesting, to say the least, and it has certainly tested our mettle.
The Chamber has worked tirelessly to serve members, and I am proud to say we managed to successfully deliver timely and very significant support to members as a result of our efforts. Moreover, despite the highly politicized and polarized community, we maintained our intellectual honesty, which I sincerely believe made our lobby efforts all the more effective.
At this time last year, we were filled with a sense of optimism. We had record low unemployment and visitor arrivals were enjoying double digit growth. On the business front, Hong Kong’s economy held up reasonably well against a global backdrop of uncertainty surrounding the escalating Sino-U.S. trade war. On top of this, our optimism was further buoyed by the Greater Bay Area blueprint promising us more opportunities to tap into.
Just a month later, the downward spiral started. The months of social unrest in the second half of the year took a heavy toll on Hong Kong’s economy, on businesses and on the morale of citizens.
By the end of 2019, we were all exhausted by the protests. As we struggled to find a meaningful and lasting solution to the unrest, the coronavirus started to spread rapidly around the world.
Many businesses have had to implement policies requiring staff to work from home to minimize the risk of spreading the infection. Industries across the board are all suffering incredibly at this time as the economy has basically been put on hold. Throughout this difficult time, the Chamber has been working extremely hard to lobby the Government to provide support and relief measures, while continuing to provide members with business services, timely talks and information.
During several rounds of meetings and briefings with members, some of which I personally hosted, we were able to better understand the extent to which businesses were being battered. Those frank exchanges provided us with strong arguments during dozens of meetings with the Government to provide support to businesses. Our relentless efforts were rewarded as the Financial Secretary rolled out rounds of relief measures in the last quarter of 2019, and in his Budget this year.
While these relief measures were welcomed, it was obvious that they were not enough to help businesses cope with the devastation that the pandemic was having on businesses. It was time to use the fiscal reserves that we had been saving for the proverbial
We requested an urgent meeting with the Chief Executive Carrie Lam to explain businesses’ plight. We stressed to her the dire need to safeguard the economy and jobs as businesses were struggling to stay afloat. We presented various fiscal measures that the Government could use to address the liquidity shortage that businesses are facing and avoid mass layoffs. I am pleased to report that the Chief Executive took on board many of our recommendations, and a few days later the Government announced a 137.5 billion-dollar package of measures to provide much-needed relief for all sectors in
Despite a very challenging 2019, financially your Chamber ended the year in good shape, all things considered. This allowed us to freeze membership dues for 2020, as members struggled with liquidity shortages. But we will undoubtedly face a lot of pressure on our finances for 2020 and the years ahead. As most of our income is derived from business documentation services, our revenue is only as healthy as the economy.
The second half of 2020 will be a challenging time for us all. But we should remain hopeful in the knowledge that we will get through this difficult time together. We should also take solace in the fact that Hong Kong has bounced back stronger and wiser after each crisis that we have endured. The world will be a different place once we have beaten this pandemic. But in the words of Captain Tom, a former British Army officer who raised 30 million pounds for charity in the run-up to his 100th birthday: “For all those people who are finding it difficult at the moment; the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away.”
Let’s keep a similarly positive mindset.
Helping members cope with challenges
Given the challenges that Hong Kong faced in 2019, the focus of the Chamber’s work was on helping members survive these turbulent times. It took a three-pronged approach to this: providing useful information, organizing timely events and, most importantly, putting its lobbying work into overdrive.
After rounds of meetings with members and committees, and the Chamber’s timely proposals throughout the year to the Chief Executive, Financial Secretary and relevant bureaus, we managed to secure much needed support for businesses.
As the Voice of Business, other submissions and recommendations presented throughout the year on key legislative changes were thrashed out by experts serving on the Chamber’s committees. We also held dozens of meetings with government officials and Chamber members to discuss the amendments to the extradition bill and implications to business. Your Chamber served as the voice of reason during this challenging and often emotional time, and proposed practical ways forward.
The Chamber’s operations didn’t escape the impact of the anti-Government protests. Although we were forced to cancel a number of meetings and events, overall, the Chamber adopted a business-as-usual approach. As a result, more than 550 events and meetings were held, a figure which surpassed 2018’s total.
Highlights of the year included the biennial CEO Manpower Conference, with speakers from traditional industries such as Ikea, to start-ups like Klook, sharing how they were addressing the changing needs and aspirations of different generations of staff.
The Hong Kong Business Community Luncheons with Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Financial Secretary Paul Chan, as well as Town Hall Forums, provided members with the opportunity to speak directly with Government representatives and heads of statutory bodies.
The Chamber’s Young Executives Club celebrated its fifth anniversary in style, with a grand Gala Dinner themed “A Night at the Opera.”
On top of these, the Secretariat organized hundreds of knowledge-based talks, dozens of networking events, and hosted incoming delegations from around the world. All these events provided useful platforms for members to make important contacts and gain knowledge about new markets and opportunities.
Following the release of the Outline Development Plan for the Greater Bay Area in February 2019, your Chamber organized regular talks and a high-level GBA seminar, as well as visits to several GBA cities.
Further afield, your Chamber organized overseas missions to Japan, Taiwan, Seoul, Israel and our first mission to Africa in many years to Morocco and Ghana.
The Chamber also kept a tight rein on costs, while developing new services and sources of income. As a result, the Chamber’s financial performance ended 2019 with a net operating surplus of $6.8 million.
Although many challenges and uncertainties lie ahead for the remainder of 2020, your Chamber will try its utmost to help members get through these exceptional times.
Report by George Leung, CEO, HKGCC
Targeted Measures to Save Livelihoods
We have faced a long and extraordinary year with the triple whammy of the Sino-U.S. trade war, social unrest and the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Now, on top of these, we are in a deep recession as the economy contracted 8.9% in the first quarter. With weak markets, cancellation of orders and disruption of logistics, companies are sailing in troubled waters.
Our priorities during these exceptionally hard times should focus on safeguarding Hong Kong’s economy and speeding up its recovery once the pandemic is over.
As the Chamber’s Legislative Council representative, I have dedicated myself to serving the business community during these challenging times. In view of the social unrest and the coronavirus outbreak, I have been in close communication with members to understand first-hand the impact that various sectors are facing so that I could put forward practical suggestions to the Government to help tide businesses over.
I made a number of suggestions to the SAR Government to introduce targeted measures to ease the pressure on enterprises. These included providing wage subsidies to safeguard jobs, offering principal moratorium for corporate loans, rolling out the Special 100% Loan Guarantee under the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme, providing an emergency relief fund to affected industries, as well as allowing payment of tax by instalments and postponement of tax payment. After extensive mediation, these measures were accepted and adopted by the Government.
For the long-term, the SAR Government must further develop competitive industries to steer Hong Kong towards a high value-added knowledge-based economy, which would help secure our long-term development. In fact, our academic environment and innovation and technology (I&T) research has been losing its attractiveness, compared to our neighbours. To address this, the Government needs to increase investment in education and innovation and technology, as well as conduct timely reviews of various tax deduction arrangements and talent import policies.
Fellow members, Hong Kong has experienced an extremely unusual year that has impacted even our daily lives. Nevertheless, regardless of changes, the fact that we all cherish our home, Hong Kong, remains unchanged. Whatever industry you are engaged in, or wherever you hail from, we all hope to make Hong Kong a better place. I believe that by working together for the good of society, we can emerge from the haze sooner.
Report by Jeffrey Lam, HKGCC LegCo Representative
Exploring New Markets and Expanding Horizons
The committee had a very busy year helping members explore new markets to expand their businesses.
An important part of our work is organizing missions. We organized a mission in June to Hokkaido, to explore business and investment opportunities in the food and tourism sectors. This mission was a huge success and members were able to make high-level contacts, as well as meet with local business people.
Our second mission last year visited Ghana and Morocco, where we enjoyed an audience with the Vice President of Ghana, his Excellency Mahamudu Bawumia. His enthusiasm was reflected in the very vibrant local start-up community, which we experienced during meetings with business chambers and visits to local companies. The second leg of the mission, to Morocco, was equally productive, and we were received at a very high level among Moroccan officials, local chambers, enterprises, and also think tanks.
When we were not orgainizing missions, we held useful and timely seminars for members. These included talks on “Vietnam’s Economic Transformation,” investing in Cambodia’s real estate market, and Bangladesh’s growing role in the global supply chain. Our Cocktail Reception with Consuls General of the Asia & Africa Regions provided an exclusive opportunity for members to expand their connections.
In addition, we welcomed over 30 incoming visitors and delegations including the Malaysian Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry, the Indian Ambassador to Beijing, as well as several new Consuls General to Hong Kong.
The committee also developed connections with other chambers around the region. In January, I spoke at the Vibrant Gujrat summit, where I was lucky enough to meet Prime Minister Modi. I also represented the Chamber at events in Cambodia, Nepal and Pakistan.
Developing markets across the region are advancing amazingly quickly. It is important that we help members not only learn more about these new markets, but also build bridges through personal exchanges.
Report by Behzad Mirzaei, Chairman, Asia & Africa Committee
Coping With Change
No one could have foreseen the drastic turn of events almost a year ago as Hong Kong imploded into a protracted period of social unrest.
Although these protests have since tapered off, Hong Kong continues to suffer because of the unprecedented crisis brought about by the novel coronavirus. For the retail and hospitality sectors, Covid-19 may very well be the final nail that could drive businesses under.
The outlook may be quite bleak, but Hong Kong is no stranger to adversity and has always bounced back. We should take advantage of the current situation to look at how we can improve Hong Kong’s business environment, so that we can emerge stronger and more competitive than before.
To that end, policy advocacy has always been an important aspect of our work. An example of this is our response to the Government on its proposal to introduce a statutory cooling-off period for wellness and fitness services, on which we cautioned against adding another layer of legislation in the name of consumer protection.
Helping members to anticipate and overcome changes is also part and parcel of the committee’s mission. This is especially the case as far as being technologically-ready is concerned, given the shift towards doing business online.
The committee has therefore made it a point of informing members on the importance of incorporating technology into their businesses. We have done so by organizing site visits such as to an unmanned store, as well as seminars on technological applications such as the use of chatbots.
Changing demographics have also impacted the tastes of consumers. The committee is helping members respond to a shifting landscape as interest in food tourism, green tourism and cultural tourism grows.
If there is a theme that the future holds, it is that of change. The committee will strive to assist the Chamber in identifying and addressing the needs and interests of members, so they are properly equipped to overcome difficulties and thrive.
Report by Sylvia Chung, Chairman, Retail & Tourism Committee
Difficult Times for SMEs
The past 12 months have been extremely difficult for SMEs.
To help members through this challenging time, the SME Committee worked very closely with the Government’s Commerce and Economic Development Bureau and Trade and Industry Department. I, as well as the committee’s Vice Chairmen, attended many meetings with Government officials, including the Chief Executive Carrie Lam, which was led by our LegCo Representative Jeffrey Lam, to reflect members’ views and concerns.
The committee also organized two SME Forums, hosted by Chamber Chairman Dr Aron Harilela, for members to share the challenges that they were facing and what measures they needed to survive. The Chamber reflected members’ views to the Government, and I am pleased to say that many of these were later rolled out in subsequent relief packages.
In particular, the Chamber had long lobbied for the Government to raise the cumulative funding ceiling of the SME Export Marketing Fund. In December, the Government responded by doubling the ceiling.
As many SMEs are not always clear about what assistance is available, the committee partnered with the Trade and Industry Department to jointly organize a seminar on “Funding Schemes & Support Measures for SMEs.” Salina Yan, Director-General of the Trade and Industry Department, and her team, introduced new and existing measures available.
In view of the rapid growth of Hong Kong’s start-up scene and importance of e-commerce, we organized a number of talks to inform members about digital marketing, future payment solutions, cloud technology as well as entrepreneurship.
As part of our “Enterprises Sharing Series” members visited Super X to learn how the company makes use of innovative technology to maintain its competitiveness in active wear.
Given the unprecedented challenge we are all facing, I hope we can all work together to get through this pandemic. The SME Committee will be doing all it can to help members cope with the difficulties.
Report by Roy Ng, Chairman, SME Committee
Peter Wong Elected HKGCC Chairman
Peter Wong, Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, has been elected Chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC) for the coming year, taking over from Aron Harilela, who retired from the chairmanship after serving for two years.
The election was held at the inaugural meeting of the new General Committee immediately after HKGCC’s Annual General Meeting on the evening of 15 May. Leland Sun, Managing Director of Pan Asian Mortgage Co Ltd, was elected as Deputy Chairman.
Oscar Chow, Non-Executive Director of Chevalier International Holdings Ltd, and Victor Li, Chairman and Managing Director of CK Asset Holdings Ltd, were re-elected as Vice Chairmen.
At the AGM, members also elected a total of six members to fill the seats on the General Committee – the governing body of the Chamber – who were required to step down this year. All six of them were re-elected: Jennifer Chan, Oscar Chow, Allen Fung, Gao Yingxin (retired 25 May), Aron Harilela and YK Pang.
HKGCC General Committee
Chairman: Peter Wong
Deputy Chairman: Leland Sun
Vice Chairmen: Oscar Chow, Victor Li
LegCo Representative: Jeffrey K F Lam
General Committee Members:
Guy Bradley, Nicholas Brooke, Agnes Chan, Jennifer Chan, Allen Fung, Aron Harilela, Stanley Hui, Benjamin Hung, Jacob Kam, Ronald Lee, David Lie, YK Pang,
Neville S Shroff, Douglas Woo, Emil Yu, Yu Pang Chun, Edmond Yue, Betty Yuen and Allan Zeman.