Welcoming Remarks by Permanent Secretary for Transport and Housing (Transport) at the TradeWinds Shipowners Forum (English only)21 November 2017

Following is the welcoming remarks by the Permanent Secretary for Transport and Housing (Transport), Mr Joseph Lai Yee Tak, at the TradeWinds Shipowners Forum on November 21:

Mr (Julian) Bray (Editor-in-Chief, TradeWinds), Ms (Sabrina) Chao (Chairman, Hong Kong Shipowners Association and Executive Chairman, Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings), ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to welcome the TradeWinds Shipowners Forum to Hong Kong again after last year's resounding success. I am delighted to meet friends from the industry and many major shipping enterprises in the region again. I would also like to extend a special welcome to those who have traveled afar to Hong Kong for today's event.

Hong Kong has a long maritime tradition. Growing from a small fishing village to one of the world's busiest container ports and an international maritime centre, the hard-earned success of Hong Kong hinges on a number of factors – our excellent geographical location, our global connectivity, the solid foundation of our many institutional strengths, a vibrant shipping community, as well as the ceaseless support rendered by the Government. With all these factors combined, our Port is the 5th busiest in the world, handling around 20 million TEUs a year, with a good reputation on its high efficiency. We also have a strong pool of shipowners who own or manage nearly one tenth of the world's merchant fleet. As well, there are over 800 companies operating in Hong Kong, providing a myriad of good quality maritime services. These range from ship agency, ship management, ship finance to marine insurance, legal and arbitration services, and so on. The Hong Kong Shipping Register ranks as the world's fourth largest, with a total gross tonnage of over 87 million, and our ships are among the world's best performers in terms of Port State Control detention rates.

But we do not rest on our laurels. As an open and externally-oriented economy, Hong Kong is highly susceptible to changes in the external environment and global economic fluctuations. Our maritime industry has faced many tough tests in recent years – the sluggish international trade, the slump in global demand, the restructuring of shipping alliances, as well as fierce competition from nearby port and maritime cities. Although there are signs of improvement in our throughput figures in the first half of this year, the uncertainties in the global economy have not really gone away. If Hong Kong is to strengthen its position as the premier maritime centre in the region, we must understand our challenges and opportunities ahead.

Today's forum, with the theme "Harnessing Hong Kong's Super-connector Effect", provides a timely reminder of our key strengths. Hong Kong's superb connectivity is clearly an important advantage. Situated at the heart of Asia, Hong Kong is the key gateway to the Mainland of China and a meeting place between East and West. We offer excellent connectivity through our efficient airport, sea port and land crossing. All Asia's major markets are within four hours' flight, and half of the world's population can be reached within five hours. Geographical connectivity aside, Hong Kong is blessed with our close economic ties with the Mainland. Under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), Hong Kong enterprises enjoy preferential access to the vast Mainland market, and overseas companies set up here can also enjoy this benefit. This allows us to best serve as a "springboard" for international companies to access the huge Mainland market. At the same time, with free trade, the rule of law, the common law system, free flow of capital and our strong connection with the international market, Hong Kong provides an effective and convenient gateway for Mainland maritime companies to "go global".

Looking ahead, China's Belt and Road Initiative will further unleash immense business opportunities for global trade. With increasing trade links, capital flows and infrastructure investments, there will be massive opportunities for seaborne trade and, in turn, great demands for quality maritime and shipping services. Hong Kong is indeed fortunate to be an important node in the Belt and Road Initiative, and we will continue to fully leverage on our complementary advantages to become the "super-connector" to link the Mainland of China with the global economy. The various sessions today will discuss questions that touch on the prospects of the Chinese market and the Belt and Road Initiative, and I look forward to the excellent speakers sharing with us their insights and ideas on these important and interesting questions.

Speaking on connectivity, may I capitalise on this valuable opportunity to do some advertising here – to "connect" you with our Hong Kong Maritime Week. Riding on last year's considerable success, the Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board is organising the second edition of the Maritime Week from 19 to 26 November. Nearly 50 events hosted by 57 enterprises and industry organisations will be held this week. Activities include business seminars, briefings, conferences, visits, networking activities and even maritime-themed sports events. This very forum is, of course, one of the key events. We hope that through these many diversified events and activities, we can showcase our capability to provide high quality maritime services. I very much hope to see you again in some of these activities.

On this note, let me wish you all a fruitful, insightful and inspiring forum today. Thank you, and have a great afternoon.