Every year, an AmCham Hong Kong delegation of Chamber leaders and staff travel to Washington DC for the “Doorknock” trip, where they meet with senior US administration officials, congressional leaders and staffers, as well as venerable China and Asia experts, to discuss timely and pertinent issues. This year’s Doorknock came at a critical juncture, Blessing Waung reports.
AmCham Hong Kong President Richard Vuylsteke has been on nearly a hundred doorknock delegations altogether, but for this year’s annual trip to Washington DC, he said the timing could not have been more perfect.
“Every year, we come to Washington to dialogue on the issues of most importance,” Vuylsteke said. “But this year, we so happened to come at exactly the right moment to leverage our relationships and maintain the importance of commerce in Hong Kong.”
From June 11-17, The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong held its annual Doorknock to the nation’s capital. Led by Chairman Peter Levesque, Vice Chairman Walter Dias, and Vuylsteke, accompanied by 16 members and AmCham staff, the delegation attended a landmark total of 50 formal and informal meetings, in what Vuylsteke said was “bringing a Hong Kong schedule to Washington.”
On the delegation’s agenda was a plethora of topics to be discussed with heavy hitting policy makers and Asia experts alike, from the push for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and advocating on behalf of the Trans- Pacific Partnership.
Ahead of the trip, senior AmCham executives convened to prepare and reinforce talking points, which were backed by a busy year of conferences, roundtables and closed-door discussions. With leadership from a diverse range of businesses represented on the trip, AmCham HK was able to represent US corporations and their interests abroad, and was thus able to speak with authority and concrete examples of ongoing trade in the region.
Trade Promotion Authority
When the first delegates landed in DC, things seemed grim for the TPA. However, just days after the Doorknock concluded, Congress passed the “fast track” bill, as well as the related Trade Preferences Extension Act (TPEA) which includes the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). President Obama signed both TPA and TPEA into law on June 29.
Many business organizations, as well as President Obama’s administration, see the legislation as crucial for trade negotiations, so that the process of placing “made in USA” goods into the international markets is expedited.
After months of debate in Congress, with opposition from the President’s own party, the trade agenda from the administration often seemed close to falling apart. However, with the TPA passed, the administration can now move onto focusing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which if passed, would be the largest trade deal passed globally since the 1990s, when the World Trade Organization was formed.
In advocating on behalf of TPP, AmCham delegates emphasized that US leadership is crucial in order to establish the global trade framework, putting forth the highest standard of rules and regulations. As one senior level executive noted, TPP was “hostage” to TPA, which President Obama had previously believed would pass no matter what. It now awaits to be seen what the future of TPP will be.
Hong Kong’s role
The inquiries about Hong Kong that were most prevalent amongst the interlocutors were the following:
- Congressional interest about Hong Kong’s election reform, as at the time of the Doorknock, the city was awaiting the vote on the election reform bill
- Interest in the success of the launch of the Hong Kong-Shanghai stock connect that launched last November, in terms of regulatory and legal issues
- The “One Belt, One Road” agenda, and how the development strategy shapes Hong Kong’s role as a gateway into Mainland China
In September, President Xi Jinping will make his first state visit, which will bring into play a variety of economic, political and social issues into the forefront of the conversation.
According to Nancy Leou, the Director for China and Korea for the National Security Council, “Practical and visible cooperation between the US and China can make a difference in the global challenge. Alone we can’t, but complementary efforts can make a difference.”
Throughout the discussions with various interlocutors brought up the following topics:
- Expectations for the then upcoming Strategic & Economic Dialogue (S&ED)
- The first state visit of President Xi in the US, in September 2015
- G20 Summit to be hosted by China in Fall 2016
- Prospects for progress on the US-China Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT)
- Regional security developments, including the South China Sea
- Assessments of the newly established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
Nicholas Lardy, the Anthony M. Solomon Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and author of Markets Over Mao: The Rise of Private Business in China, said, “The September summit will be pageantry, not catalytic.”
It is also expected that the US-China Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) will be discussed, which is seen as significant for US access and business development in China. From President Obama and his administration’s end, it is expected that a reasonable negative list that would demonstrate China’s continuing commitment to economic reform.
Interlocutors pointed out that Congress would consider BIT in the overall context of global trade and not in isolation. On business climate, the delegation shared the challenges concerning intellectual property and trade secrets, and growing concern with expanding regulatory requirement, including in the US.
A repeated topic that came up in meetings ranging from the National Security Council to congressional staffers was that of cybersecurity and maritime issues. As one senior level official emphasized, “We want to focus on negotiating peacetime norms of cyber activity.”
Ken Wong, CEO of QWeUs in Hong Kong, said that though cybersecurity is indeed an issue, he looks forward to future conversations with the same congressional staffers on what Hong Kong can do for the US. “Hopefully we can start more discussions on constructive matters like technology collaboration as opposed to the recent cyberattack.”
Spotlight on Africa
Reflecting a growing interest in Africa’s importance in the global economy, select members of the delegation held meetings and in-depth discussions with the Global Apparel, Footwear and Textile Initiative (GAFTI) for a working group meeting focused on supply chain.
Delegation members whose roles pertain to regional and global sourcing spoke with State Department officials in the Africa Bureau as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Africa Department regarding the importance of the extension of AGOA.
Think Asia, Think Hong Kong
Before arriving on the ground in Washington DC, on June 10, AmCham HK Chairman Peter Levesque, Vice Chairman Walter Dias and President Richard Vuylsteke flew to Chicago to participate in Think Asia, Think Hong Kong, a symposium hosted by HKSAR Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying.
The event was intended to showcase why Hong Kong presents clear advantages for American companies doing business in Asia. More than 150 high-level business leaders from Hong Kong and Mainland China flew overseas to attend the week’s events, which kicked off in Toronto, Canada. Altogether, more than 3,300 people attended the collective promotion events organized by the Hong Kong Trade and Development Council.
AmCham delegates represented in Chicago participated in a VIP networking session with senior level officials in the HKSAR Government including Leung, HKTDC Chairman Vincent Lo, as well as Stefan Selig, the Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade at the US Department of Commerce.
During his opening comments, Under Secretary Selig referred to Hong Kong as essential for strong bilateral ties, and said, “Hong Kong’s role as a trade and investment partner to the US and as a gateway to China reinforces its ability to deepen that very partnership.”
Chief Executive Leung echoed Selig’s sentiments, citing the US$49 billion in trade between the two countries that was routed through Hong Kong in 2014. He repeatedly emphasized Hong Kong’s role as a “super connector,” saying that its role would only increase in importance in the coming years as the trade relationship continues to develop.
AmCham Past Chairman James Thompson, also a featured panelist alongside other entrepreneurs in Hong Kong, spoke on his experience founding Crown Worldwide Holdings Limited. “Hong Kong has been good to me,” says Thompson, as he told the story of how he grew the company into a billion-dollar global enterprise. He was joined by panelists Marjorie Yang, Chairman of Esquel Group, and Gebhard Rainer, President and COO of Coach Inc.
Levesque was the moderator on the panel regarding “Selling to China and throughout Asia” on the city’s competitive advantages over others in the region. The panel included case studies from Chicago-based Garrett Brands, which has found great success selling its flavored popcorn in Hong Kong, as well as a long-term success story from Sears Holding Corporation in their gifts department.
To conclude the trip, Dias and Vuylsteke joined the Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel at a dinner held at the Field Museum of Natural History.
Primary Meetings – 2015 Washington Doorknock
Every year, AmCham Hong Kong participates in numerous in-depth discussions with key policy makers in Washington DC on critical issues important back at home, working on a “Hong Kong schedule” across The Hill. This year’s delegation met with a record-breaking amount of groups.
– National Security Council
– United States Trade Representative
Department of State
– African Affairs
– East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Department of Commerce
– International Trade Administration
Department of Agriculture
– Under Secretary
– Foreign Agricultural Service – China Desk
Department of Defense
– Asian and Pacific Security Affairs
Federal Maritime Commission Congress
– House of Representatives
The 2015 Doorknock Delegation
Chief Commercial Officer
Modern Terminals Limited
AmCham HK ChairmanWalter Dias
Greater China & Korea
AmCham HK Vice Chairman
Lynsey Cesca Jones
Managing Partner & Managing Director, Asia Pacific
Kincannon & Reed
AmCham HK MemberAmy Wendholt
AmCham HK Member