Hong Kong pioneers a sustainable future for an 'Asian century'

Hong Kong wants to grasp green financing and sustainable investment opportunities across Asia. Dr. Patrick Lau, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), spoke with VIR’s Luu Huong about how Hong Kong could make progress in the new era.
Dr. Patrick Lau, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council
Dr. Patrick Lau, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council

What were you doing in the Asian Financial Forum (AFF) 2023 to promote sustainable and green initiatives?

In 2021, ​the Hong Kong government announced Hong Kong's Climate Action Plan 2050, setting out the vision of "Zero-carbon Emissions - Liveable City - Sustainable Development", and outlining the strategies and targets for combating climate change and achieving carbon neutrality.

This target is 10 years earlier than Mainland China, and all relevant stakeholders, including us as the statutory body, are also making concrete efforts to be more sustainable and efficient ourselves. We have a role to promote sustainability to the rest of the business community, in particular small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Hong Kong.

We are doing a lot of promotion of the sustainability ESG concept to the SMEs sector, even though it is not a walk in the park. Currently, only tech-related companies are complying. So we are creating opportunities for SMEs to embed ESG principles as well.

At the Asian Financial Forum 2023, we also focused on the making of green deals, or renewable energies of sustainable urban development. We gave strong emphasis to matching these projects with investors because we feel they represent the most lucrative investment opportunities for investors.

Previously, we began promoting green deal making at the AFF on our virtual platforms, but it was difficult for investors to thoroughly discuss large-scale projects such as biomass or renewable energy projects virtually. These are substantial initiatives that need face-to-face discussions with different parties.

These parties need to have some trust established – that’s why we organised the 'Matching Deals' sessions. Ban Ki-moon, former secretary-general of the United Nations, also joined us at the forum to discuss progress towards sustainable development. He also highlighted that strong demands for sustainable infrastructure and green transition around the world presented vast promise, and Hong Kong was well situated to be part of this.

Overall, as the leading international finance centre, we firmly believe that Hong Kong should be a pioneer in sustainable finance, contributing to a more sustainable future.

Hong Kong’s diverse financial services will be a key enabler to build a stronger foundation for future sustainable and inclusive growth.

 The chief executive John Lee attended the Asian Financial Forum at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on January 11, with other major guests
The chief executive John Lee attended the Asian Financial Forum at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on January 11, with other major guests

Due to a strict zero-COVID policy, Hong Kong has not had any physical events for two years, which gave other countries, such as Singapore, a chance to take advantage. What is your on this?

In terms of manpower, we have a fantastic team. I don't think there's any issue. We are very pleased with my team that we have managed to stage our event very smoothly. I think they are working well all the time because previously we had physical events, but now we have physical events plus online.

I think Hong Kong - Singapore competition is much in the news, but the collaboration is actually often missed.

A few days ago, we proudly received a delegation from Singapore, and we talked about stronger collaboration between the two economies.

Hong Kong is receptive to collaborating with other economies, and Singapore is a wonderful partner. Other Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam, Thailand are also welcome. I do not see it so much as we need to have a zero-sum game of competition, but rather, this is the Asian century, thus all the opportunities are here in Asia. There are so many chances that we can all work together.

How can we strengthen bilateral trade and economic links between Vietnam and Hong Kong?

Hong Kong's total merchandise trade with Vietnam in 2021 amounted to $220 billion, up 19 per cent from 2020, putting Vietnam as the second-largest trading partner of Hong Kong among the 10 member states of ASEAN.

Bilateral trade in the first half of 2022 continued to perform strongly, amounting to $125 billion, up 21 per cent compared with the corresponding period in 2021. These figures illustrate an upbeat outlook for both Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Hong Kong and Vietnam boast a close-knit relationship. Many businessmen in Hong Kong see Vietnam as a tried-and-true destination for investment. There have been at least two missions from Hong Kong to Vietnam thus far to strengthen the relationship and promote more opportunities between the two economies. We also have a representative office in Vietnam, with an incredible team.

Given the cultural similarities and geographical advantages, more Vietnamese should be encouraged to do business here in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a prime location for global financial services and home to many financial institutions, but not just the financial sector. The Hong Kong platform encompasses the whole ecosystem. When you tap into the Hong Kong stock exchange and financial market as a fundraising platform, you also have access to a large network of advisors who can assist you in attracting global investors and forming partnerships, even if you are not listed.

Furthermore, you have a whole group of business leaders who have Vietnam-related expertise, and we have already made money from Vietnam and work closely with Vietnam. The whole ecosystem is so ideal for businesses to take advantage. So we are encouraging that international investors and Vietnamese investors to take advantage of Hong Kong.

Vietnam in particular and Southeast Asia in general is a key focus that we are focusing on.

Vietnam is an emerging economy that wants to define itself as an international and regional financial centre. Hong Kong is already a leader in this. How can the two economies collaborate in this regard?

As I mentioned earlier, more cooperation should be strengthened across Asia, including building international financial centres.

I think Vietnamese businesses, as well as other ASEAN eligible companies, can also utilise Hong Kong more, such as in the area of dual-listing in Hong Kong, as a way to hedge risk and tap into the wider pool of international investors. There’s no certain recipe for success to develop an IFC, but different countries could have their own advantages to boost their attractiveness as a new-model IFC, such as a hub for growth-stage fintech or venture capital funds.

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