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Speech by SCED at official launch of Hong Kong, China-Australia Free Trade Agreement negotiations

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the official launch of the Hong Kong, China (HKC)-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations today (May 16):

Steven (Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment of Australia, Mr Steven Ciobo), Michaela (Australia's Consul-General to Hong Kong and Macau, Ms Michaela Browning), Stephen (Chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, Mr Stephen Ng), Richard (Chairman of the Australian Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong & Macau, Professor Richard Petty), and all friends of Australia and Hong Kong,

Good Morning. I am very delighted to be here this morning to launch a milestone trade initiative, the Hong Kong, China-Australia Free Trade Agreement with all of you.

The strong turnout from different sectors of our two economies today is an excellent testimony to our unwavering commitment to free trade. Hong Kong and Australia are longtime free trade advocates and we will continue to champion this meaningful cause to benefit our economies and people.

There is no secret about how close the relationship Hong Kong and Australia have forged over the years.

Some 240 000 Hong Kong tourists visited Australia last year. Nowadays, we also have a sizable Australian community in Hong Kong, about 100 000 people. In 2014, we welcomed a few special guests from South Australia, the very cute little Koalas, and we made the Ocean Park their home.

Australia is traditionally one of our most popular destinations for education. Thousands of students travel to Australia to further their studies each year. Hong Kong has established bilateral Working Holiday Scheme with Australia and other economies respectively. For Australian young people, they may take up short-term employment and/or enroll in a short study or training course while they are on holiday in Hong Kong under the Working Holiday Scheme. Under the Scheme, Hong Kong can allocate as many as 5 000 places to Australians each year, the highest among all participating economies.

Hong Kong is Asia's leading wine hub. With the wine duty removed in 2008, Hong Kong's wine market continues to thrive. The wine trade between Australia and Hong Kong has stayed robust since we entered into a Memorandum of Understanding on co-operation in wine-related businesses in 2009. Currently, Australia is our largest importing origin among the New World wines.

Australia is a very important trading partner of Hong Kong. In terms of trade in services, it was Hong Kong's 7th largest trading partner in 2015, with value amounting to HK$41 billion. In terms of merchandise trade, it was our 19th largest trading partner in 2016, with value amounting to HK$52 billion. At the end of 2015, Australia was our 6th major destination of foreign direct investment (FDI), with an FDI stock of HK$135 billion.

So trade and investment ties have been established and things are moving in the right direction. Why do we still need an FTA?

In a nutshell, FTAs eliminate or reduce tariffs, and remove trade and non-tariff barriers. They bring about enhanced market opportunities, legal certainty and predictability for service suppliers in entering and operating in the other party's market. They may also cover investment market access and provide for investment protection.

As a result, FTAs help to boost trade and promote economic prosperity. They open up new areas to competition and promote innovation. They help create better jobs, new markets and increased investments with greater diversification and risk sharing. They support rule of law. They construct shared trade and investment approaches, and foster economic integration. We agree that all these are the basis for strong and sustainable development of any economy.

Hong Kong and Australia have respective strengths in different business areas, in which some are complementary to each other. We see tremendous room for us to further our co-operation and deepen our trade and economic liberalisation with a view to bringing our economies to new heights.

This morning, I see not only some important players in our pillar industries, but also other partnership and joint ventures between Australia and Hong Kong investors and companies which are nurturing great projects. The HKC-Australia FTA will be instrumental in providing a new platform for enhancing capital flow, innovation, interaction between professionals and R&D (research and development) collaborations which are the cornerstones for our economies to venture into new frontiers and help us stay ahead in globalisation.

The HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) and Australian Governments have been maintaining very close working relationship in various trade fora, not least WTO (World Trade Organization) and APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation). Senior government officials maintain close contacts to reinforce our common resolve in various policy agendas. Further engagement between the two sides, through the forging of a bilateral FTA, will undoubtedly bring additional and mutual benefits.

The benefits of the HKC-Australia FTA are enormous and attainable to a broad range of stakeholders in our economies. I look forward to an early conclusion of our FTA negotiations so as to fortify business opportunities in Hong Kong and Australia. Thank you.


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