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Flying the Hong Kong Flag

As Managing Director of Greater China and Korea for United Airlines, Walter Dias has been influential in developing the American company’s Asia-Pacific markets. He pioneered the Sino-US Trans-Pacific route in 2001, and expanded services to the Chinese mainland for the world’s largest airline. Mr Dias has been responsible for the Hong Kong market since 1993, and moved to the city in 2008.

In January this year, Mr Dias assumed the chairmanship of the American Chamber of Commerce after serving as its Vice-Chairman since 2014. He suggests that Hong Kong should consider taking on an observer role at ongoing developments of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

What issues facing Hong Kong’s business environment concern you today?
The key challenges to Hong Kong’s competitiveness consist of both external and internal factors. The obvious macro considerations include the slowdown of China’s economy, the gloomy global economic outlook, and the fierce competition from neighbouring cities. The cost of real estate resulting in costly business overheads, the ability to attract, nurture and retain quality local and international talents, and domestic sentiment about livelihood and the future of Hong Kong, are some of the key internal concerns.

The city is known for its resilience: what’s different now?
Hong Kong has a solid track record in surviving economic headwinds and I am very confident about its capability and capacity to rise to any challenge. Nevertheless, not only does Hong Kong need to be sufficiently robust to face uncertainties, it is paramount for it not to lose sight of the future.

To be truly resilient means that Hong Kong needs to build upon a trajectory that will result in long-term growth and sustainability based upon its unique competitive advantages. This will require strategic investments in both hard and soft infrastructure. What is so different now is technology disruption. An innovative and holistic approach towards developing a “smart city” is vital for Hong Kong; to adequately reinvent itself to be “cutting-edge competitive” in this brave new world.

How has the “one-country, two-systems” formula served Hong Kong since the handover?
“One-country, two-systems” has been the necessary foundation for the constructive and productive economic and trade relations between the Hong Kong SAR and the Chinese mainland for almost two decades. The balance between the rule of law and the laissez-faire free-market economy provides the optimum business environment – a level playing field and legal certainty without excess regulatory overload.

Proximity to the mainland also means Hong Kong has benefited economically first-hand and in real terms from its preferential treatment through the mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), the inclusion of a Hong Kong chapter in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan, and the continuous economic integration in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region.

Where are the key opportunities for Hong Kong?
Hong Kong should be a natural contributor to and beneficiary of the Belt and Road Initiative and Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) initiatives. Leveraging upon its expertise and experience in pillar industries, such as transportation and logistics, professional services, financial services, and tourism and hospitality, Hong Kong will be able to capture the potentially enormous trade and investment opportunities. This proactive and intentional approach will also consolidate its positioning as a regional and global hub.

A number of AmCham Hong Kong members with regional and global footprints are already deeply involved in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) developments, engaging relevant government agencies and policymakers. Given the significance of the trade agreement covering close to 40 per cent of global GDP and setting best practice and high standards for future trade, Hong Kong should consider taking an active role as a non-sovereign party or as an observer to influence the process of trade liberalisation and facilitation.

What is AmCham’s view on the TPP?
US leadership and partnership in establishing the framework for global trade with a high standard of rules and regulations go far beyond tariffs. While TPP passage may not necessarily lead to immediate economic returns, in the long run, it will shape the context in which US and international business will operate. An American model advocating for free trade and responsible business practice will contribute a great deal in capacity-building in the region and the overall global trade development.

What can Hong Kong offer to Sino-US global trade development?
Hong Kong’s role as a choice conduit for investments going in and out between the US and China has deepened as the world’s two largest economies mature in their economic and trade relations. Predominantly a service economy, Hong Kong continues to offer its cross-border trade experiences and professional services in facilitating the multi-jurisdictional transactions involving not just the United States and China, but other economies in the Asia-Pacific, Africa and globally.

Related Link
American Chamber of Commerce
Belt and Road Summit
Belt and Road


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