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Thursday, May 04, 2017, 18:00
Act now on Greater Bay Area opportunities or cry later
By Chow Pak-chin
Thursday, May 04, 2017, 18:00 By Chow Pak-chin

No, this isn’t deja vu — I am indeed writing about the Greater Bay Area again — for the simple reason that insufficient attention is devoted to the development and therefore subsequent bountiful business opportunities to be had in the area. This is despite my previous tentative attempt at highlighting the topic for Hong Kong’s entrepreneurs and corporate leaders, and especially the young generation.

With a population estimated at about 66 million, roughly the same as that of the entire United Kingdom, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area has lately presented itself as the holy grail for the business-oriented, as well as entrepreneurs who favor a large, open-minded market, complemented with integrated infrastructural facilities that are either in progress of construction, or earmarked for completion in the near future. The wonder of the Greater Bay Area also lies in the fact that, while occupying less than 1 percent of the country’s land area, with a population accounting for less than 5 percent of the country’s total, the area managed to contribute 13 percent of the nation’s GDP in 2015. It therefore never ceases to puzzle me how lethargic and lukewarm my fellow Hong Kong residents seem to be, in response to this lucrative pie into which they are almost free to stick their fingers. It’s not just some fancy-looking pie, mind, but one that many of our own professional industries have been relying on for a significant part of their revenues too.

That our professional industries derive more than 40 percent of service fees from the Greater Bay Area is no secret, though, sadly, it is also not highlighted sufficiently and effectively to provide enough incentives either. Among the 10 or so professional industries in Hong Kong, accounting and law, engineering and draftsmanship are the industries that reap more than 50 percent of their annual revenue from the mainland — not a negligible source of revenue, if you ask me.

Also noteworthy is that in the accounting industry, a considerable number of senior partners in reputable “Big Four” firms are Hong Kong Chinese. Such an observation certainly tempts one to entertain the question that, had it not been for the cultural heritage and affinity shared between Hong Kong and the mainland, as well as the city’s proximity to and relations with the mainland, would that still be the case? If I were to venture a guess, the answer is “highly unlikely”. My logic being that as multinational companies who want as close to a lion’s share of this colossal, rapidly developing market as possible, these Big Four companies would naturally want to get a head-start in the competition with people attuned to the cultural and historical aspects of the country in which they plan to establish and consolidate their grand plans of development. That’s where Hong Kong’s skilled labor and companies come in, and reap the benefits.

Then there are the infrastructure projects. Outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has been right in pointing out, at a Hong Kong Institution of Engineers Conference a couple weeks ago, that the Greater Bay Area is “a strategic point” on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which is destined to attract foreign investment for its abundant opportunities. Beginning with the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link — encumbered in controversies with some intending to downplay its long-term benefits — large-scale infrastructure projects in the Greater Bay Area such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, and the infrastructural construction works associated with the Liantang/Heung Yuen Wai Boundary Control Point, accrue costs of HK$200 billion in total — imagine how much profit Hong Kong’s engineering and construction industries could and have reaped from these projects?

Hong Kong membership of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank means the city can provide financing services such as project loans, bond issuance, treasury management and private equity investments to the companies that have set up bases in the Greater Bay Area. In addition to the support readily available to companies that plan on investing in infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative, provided by the Infrastructure Financing Facilitation Office established by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, professionals and companies can now also draw on the HK$200 million Professional Services Advancement Support Scheme, introduced in Leung’s Policy Address last year, to initiate and develop exchange, cooperation and publicity activities in overseas markets. With a vast market and opportunities galore beckoning right on its doorstep, it’s pure laziness and short-sightedness that Hong Kong’s professionals and corporations aren’t exhibiting more enthusiasm in turning these opportunities — technically free lunches — into actual revenue and economic development that could, in turn, improve the livelihoods of the public. If we let leaders and the major forces of our economy remain so blinkered, do we not have ourselves to blame in the future too, when we look back, wondering, wistfully, what it was that stopped us from grasping the ample opportunities presented to us, and hammered home to us many times already by Premier Li Keqiang?

The author is vice-chairman of Wisdom Hong Kong, a local think tank.

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