A year has passed since the Chamber organized its first virtual Annual General Meeting to comply with Covid-19 social-distancing guidelines. Twelve months later, the global picture of progress against the virus is mixed at best.
However, here in Hong Kong, the robust response from the Government, businesses and ordinary people has enabled us to escape relatively lightly in terms of fatalities and severe illness. Our success has also enabled us to avoid the very strict lockdowns that many other cities around the world have enacted over the past year.
With vaccination programmes now being rolled out here and around the world, there is real hope we can get this coronavirus outbreak under control. To expedite the process, we need to encourage more people to participate in Hong Kong’s vaccination programme. We have the vaccines, we have excellent healthcare workers to administer the shots, so there is no reason why we cannot achieve herd immunity sooner if the general population gets behind the initiative.
The economic cost of the pandemic has been huge. Many businesses had already been struggling due to the social unrest and the consequent plunge in visitor arrivals in the second half of 2019. The fallout from the pandemic drove many companies out of business.
Given the challenges of the past year, it is no surprise that Hong Kong’s GDP fell by 6.1% in 2020. Two consecutive years of economic contraction brought the unemployment rate to a 17-year high of 7%.
The Chamber has been working flat-out lobbying the Government to support the business community during these exceptional times. We were successful in getting two tranches of the Employment Support Scheme, as well as new and enhanced measures for the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme and Distance Business Programme. We also succeeded in lobbying the Government to relax social-distancing measures for the food and beverage sector.
We also proposed that Hong Kong should launch the GBA Youth Employment Scheme to help young people take advantage of career opportunities in the GBA. The scheme has received tremendous interest from our members, who have already offered to provide over 450 jobs to Hong Kong graduates.
With global travel at a virtual standstill, we have also been lobbying the Government to reopen borders by establishing travel bubbles with other areas that have controlled the spread of the coronavirus.
Although my first year as HKGCC Chairman has certainly been challenging, it has also been extremely rewarding. I am also very grateful for the fantastic support from members, particularly for all your views and input, whether directly or through our surveys. We are a major Voice of Business in Hong Kong, and each and every one of your contributions adds weight to our lobbying efforts.
I remain cautiously optimistic about the prospects for the coming year as the pandemic recedes. We are on the doorstep of the world’s second largest economy, and in the heart of Asia – the world’s most dynamic business region.
I believe we are on the cusp of a new era of growth and prosperity for Hong Kong and the region. And as always, your Chamber will be by your side to help you understand and capitalize on these new developments.
Report by Peter Wong, Chairman, HKGCC
Getting Back on Track
It has been a long and extraordinary past year. We have endured the double whammy of the Covid-19 pandemic and China-U.S. trade conflict. Nearly 260,000 people have lost their jobs and Hong Kong’s unemployment rate is still hovering near a 17-year high.
I believe our top priority now should be for all sectors of the community to work together to fight the pandemic and to get vaccinated as soon as possible. To lay a solid foundation for reopening the economy, I will continue to urge the Government to reopen the border to visitors from the Mainland, Macao and low-risk places without the need for quarantine.
As the Chamber’s Legislative Council representative, I have dedicated myself to serving Chamber members and the business community. Thanks to members’ input, I have been able to put forward practical suggestions to the Government to help tide businesses over.
These proposals include: rolling out two tranches of the Employment Support Scheme; introducing the Special 100% Loan Guarantee under the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme; extending the principal moratorium period for corporate loans; and sustaining the growth of the bond market.
I also proposed handing out electronic consumption vouchers to the Financial Secretary back in February last year. He included the idea in this year’s Budget, and the $5,000 worth of vouchers will be distributed in instalments to each eligible resident.
We also need to focus on the longer-term interests of Hong Kong. Key to this will be capturing opportunities unfolding in the Greater Bay Area – a huge market with a population of 70 million.
We must also leverage our position in the national 14th Five-Year Plan. For example, if Hong Kong is to develop into an international innovation and technology hub, the Government must invest more in education and I&T, and attract more I&T talent to the city.
The Government has the responsibility to create a good operating environment for businesses to thrive. This includes maintaining our low and simple tax regime, conducting timely reviews of tax deduction arrangements and talent import policies, with a view to enhancing Hong Kong’s long-term competitiveness.
With the National Security Law in force for almost a year now, social stability has been restored. Looking ahead, I expect that once the pandemic stabilizes, Hong Kong will be in a good position to capitalize on a rebound of the economy.
So long as the local community and businesses join hands to work towards steady progress, I believe Hong Kong will soon be able to emerge from adversity and get back on track.
Report by Jeffrey Lam, HKGCC LegCo Representative
Working Hard on Your Behalf
We had all hoped that last year would have been our first and last virtual AGM. However, Hong Kong is still toiling to return to business as usual. As a result, helping members get through these difficult times has been the focus of the Chamber’s work in the past year.
The Chamber lobbied the Government to use its war chest to provide financial support to struggling businesses. We successfully lobbied for two tranches of the Employment Support Scheme, and organized two online forums with the Secretary for Labour and Welfare to brief members on the support measures and to answer their questions.
We also succeeded in raising the ceiling on various loan schemes for SMEs, proposed tax relief measures for businesses affected by Covid-19, and provided our input on the Proposed Companies (Corporate Rescue) Bill.
A crucial factor in the effectiveness of the Chamber’s lobbying efforts has been regularly asking for members’ views and ideas through surveys. Your input carries a lot of weight when lobbying the Government, and also helps us to pinpoint issues of your concern. I thank all members for taking the time to fill out the surveys, and it is a practice which we will continue to use going forward.
Another significant change that the pandemic forced upon us is digitization of services. As many people were required to work from home and avoid group gatherings, the Chamber had to quickly upgrade its capabilities to provide live streaming options for meetings, training programmes and seminars. As a result, we managed to organize over 350 events and committee meetings during the year.
The Mainland continues to be at the forefront of businesses’ minds and plans. We organized a series of online seminars on the Greater Bay Area, in cooperation with several international chambers in Hong Kong, to help companies better understand the various sectors and cities in the area.
With regards to the Chamber’s internal operations, like all businesses we have also endured a sharp fall in turnover for our documentation services. Our comprehensive range of online services allowed businesses greater flexibility amid the pandemic. However, due to Covid-19 putting a lot of trade on hold, U.S. sanctions on Mainland China and the general trend towards paperless trade, the number of documents processed in 2020 was down compared to the previous year. Demand for our new Certificate of Business Identity service, on the other hand, is starting to increase.
The Chamber worked non-stop in 2020 to deliver tangible and timely support and services for members despite social-distancing restrictions. Our efforts were not in vain, as many members have told me that our work did indeed make a huge difference to their business.
As the Chamber celebrates its 160th anniversary, we plan to arrange some activities later in the year to celebrate this major milestone. I look forward to meeting you in person to celebrate the defeat of this pandemic and to raise a glass to our 160th anniversary.
Report by George Leung, CEO, HKGCC
Hopes for Greater Cooperation Ahead
2020 started on a relatively optimistic note, as the Americas Committee looked at opportunities emerging in Latin American countries. There was also hope that relations between the U.S. and China would improve with the signing of the Phase One Trade Deal in January. However, the rapid spread of Covid-19 hit the economies of the Americas hard and worsened China-U.S. relations.
To help members understand the implications of these developments, we organized talks with economists, trade lawyers as well as health officials. We were fortunate to have globally respected speakers share their views including Hong Kong University’s Professor Keiji Fukuda at the School of Public Health, Oxford University’s Professor of Globalisation and Development Ian Goldin, former World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick and Dr Jesus Seade Kuri, Mexico’s Candidate to Directorate General of the World Trade Organization.
Our talk by the U.S.-China Business Council showed that trade tensions and the Covid-19 pandemic had increased uncertainty for American companies operating in China. However, they remained optimistic over the longer term, especially with the prospects of a change of administration in the White House.
The inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden lifted hopes for more cooperation between the U.S. and China. However, U.S. trade policy experts from the Hinrich Foundation, Hogan Lovells and the Asia Global Institute, who shared their views at timely webinars, said that they expected the U.S. approach to foreign policy – and towards China in particular – was unlikely to change significantly in the near term.
However, the two powers do seem to be tip-toeing towards cooperation on climate change. Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the virtual Earth Day summit hosted by President Biden in April, showing that the two biggest carbon-emitting nations can work together to open up a path to cooperation, despite the tensions in other areas.
We also heard from economists in Chile, Mexico and Hong Kong on the longer term outlook for trade and business development with Latin American countries.
Despite the very challenging past 12 months, I firmly believe that out of crisis comes opportunity. Now more than ever, we should come together to support one another.
Report by Prof Steve Wong, Chairman, Americas Committee
Digital Transformation and Green Finance
Despite the social-distancing restrictions, the Financial and Treasury Services Committee has remained active in engaging with our members, thanks to the power of digital technology. It is evident that the pandemic has turned digitalization into a business priority, not only for our members but also for HKGCC.
We have continued to promote the interests of the financial services industry and reinforce Hong Kong’s position as a premier international financial centre. To that end, we worked closely with relevant government agencies, including the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, Financial Services Development Council and InvestHK to co-organize topical webinars.
Many businesses accelerated their digital transformation in 2020, and the financial services sector was at the forefront of this trend. To help members keep pace with the demands around digitalization, the committee organized a series of webinars exploring the application of innovative technologies in financial products. These included talks on blockchain technology applications, digital currencies and regulatory technology. The role of technology was also an important theme in our three-part series of talks on family offices.
Another key focus area of the committee was the Greater Bay Area (GBA). To explore the opportunities in the GBA, we invited industry experts and government officials to discuss a range of topics, including strengthening Hong Kong’s role as a leading hub for asset management and the largest offshore RMB bond market.
Our key submissions in 2020 included those related to the Securities and Futures Commission’s proposed amendments to its Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Guidelines, as well as the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s proposed introduction of Corporate Weighted Voting Rights structures. The committee also contributed to the Chamber’s response to the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau’s consultation on the proposal to provide tax concessions for carried interest.
Around the world, green financing has become an increasingly important business agenda and Hong Kong is no exception. The committee joined forces with the Environment and Sustainability Committee to help Hong Kong develop into a hub for green and sustainable finance.
Report by Agnes Chan, Chairman, Financial and Treasury Services Committee
Consulting on Challenging Topics
The Manpower Committee had a busy year in 2020 that included establishing positions and suggestions for the Chamber on a number of controversial topics. In response to the public consultation on the review of the minimum wage, the Chamber, as advised by members, recommended the Minimum Wage Commission to keep the Statutory Minimum Wage rate unchanged at the current level of $37.5 per hour, in consideration of Hong Kong’s economic outlook and pressure facing by local businesses. In the end, the Government took our advice and maintained the current statutory minimum wage level.
With regards to the consultation on the revised amendment proposal on raising penalties of occupational safety and health legislation, the Committee worked closely with stakeholders and our Representative at the Labour Advisory Board, Mr Emil Yu, to draft a submission in December. The Chamber disagreed with the substantial increase in penalties as it might lead to drastic consequences during the present economic downturn. Instead, the Chamber advised the Government to tackle the problem at source and focus on education and prevention instead of punishment.
The Committee will continue to closely monitor the development of major labour issues – including the ongoing discussion relating to the proposed abolition of the MPF offsetting mechanism and the proposed alignment of statutory holidays and public holidays – and provide carefully analyzed input to the Government on members’ behalf.
The impact from the pandemic has affected businesses’ operations and performance across various industries. To help members respond to the unprecedented challenges, the Committee organized a number of webinars on how to manage the physical and mental well-being of staff, as well as the legal issues relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Attracting and retaining talent is a huge challenge for Hong Kong businesses. To help members understand the disconnection between how companies and employees perceive corporate culture, HR experts exchanged views on managing the expectations of various generations of employees at a Manpower Committee webinar held during the year.
Report by Connie Lam, Chairman, Manpower Committee
Peter Wong Re-Elected HKGCC Chairman
Peter Wong, Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, has been re-elected as Chamber Chairman for the coming year.
The election was held at the inaugural meeting of the new General Committee immediately after the Chamber’s Annual General Meeting on the evening of 7 May. Leland Sun, Managing Director of Pan Asian Mortgage Co Ltd, was re-elected as Deputy Chairman.
Oscar Chow, Non-Executive Director of Chevalier International Holdings Ltd; Victor Li, Chairman and Managing Director of CK Asset Holdings Ltd; and Douglas Woo, Chairman and Managing Director of Wheelock and Co Ltd, were re-elected as Vice Chairmen.
At the AGM, members elected six members to fill the seats on the General Committee – the governing body of the Chamber – who were required to step down this year. Five of them were re-elected: Nicholas Brooke, Benjamin Hung, Jacob Kam, Neville Shroff and Yu Pang Chun. Peter K N Lam was newly elected to the General Committee.
HKGCC General Committee
Chairman: Peter Wong
Deputy Chairman: Leland Sun
Vice Chairmen: Oscar Chow, Victor Li, Douglas Woo
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, Peter K N Lam, Ronald Lee, David Lie, Y K Pang, Neville Shroff, Sun Yu, Emil Yu, Yu Pang Chun, Edmond Yue and Betty Yuen.