2023 Chairman Geoffrey Siebengartner
Thank you very much Joe. Congratulations on an eventful and successful year – it has been a pleasure to work with you and it is humbling to take over the stewardship of the AmCham Hong Kong.
Good afternoon and welcome to our offices here on Duddell Street. One of our major achievements of 2022 was to complete this space, which we purchased the year before. The vision was to create a new, permanent home for AmCham that would be a hub for our community and events, and would demonstrate our long-term commitment to being in this city. And I must say it really does feel like a home when it is full of so many familiar faces – I encourage all of you to visit often in 2023.
Of course, this would not be a home without the dedicated AmCham staff, who really carried the torch for us during a year of major transition. They did not miss a beat and have now settled in under the leadership of our new President, Eden Woon, who joined us in September – another major success of 2022.
It would also not be a home without the larger AmCham family who support our work. That includes our current and former board members, our past Chairs (many of whom are still here in Hong Kong), and of course our more than 2,000 members.
This inaugural address is an annual exercise at AmCham. It marks the transition of leadership, gives us an opportunity to take stock of our achievements, and keeps us accountable to our members and our community as we plan for the year ahead. This year I am very excited about everything we have to look forward to, but there are a few items I want to be sure to mention before we get to 2023.
Taking stock of 2022
First, let's reflect briefly on how things looked a year ago. It was pretty grim. New restrictions took hold, the city shut down, and our hopes for returning to "business as usual" faded. This inaugural address, like everything else, was held virtually. AmCham was going through a major leadership transition and our new hub was facing supply chain delays. A survey we ran at the time showed that 53% of our members were considering leaving Hong Kong.
It was a tough time for us all, and I certainly did not envy the task ahead for Joe Armas as he took on the Chairman's role in January 2022. So it is with some satisfaction that we now look back on a busy and successful year, despite those difficulties:
- First, we were vocal on the most critical issues to our members: the reduction of quarantine and loosening of COVID restrictions. We re-started dialogues with the Hong Kong and PRC governments, while also continuing our close collaboration with the U.S. Consulate, under the new leadership of Consul General Gregory May, whom we welcomed to Hong Kong in September.
- To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the SAR, and with confidence and optimism for the city’s next 25 years, we launched Onward Hong Kong, a series of monthly, forward-looking discussions with thought leaders, business executives, academics, and government officials examining the city's future prospects and opportunities.
- We reconvened the China Business Committee to help members navigate doing business in mainland China and the Greater Bay Area amidst the challenges of the past year.
- We celebrated achievements in the business community to make Hong Kong a better and more inclusive city with our long-standing Women of Influence event series, now in its 19th year. It’s an incredible program and I encourage you all to get involved.
- And, one of my favorites: we revived the AmCham tradition of hosting a meal to celebrate Thanksgiving with our members and SAR government officials, following the relaxation of social gathering rules.
- Finally, as I mentioned, we completed our search for a new President and welcomed Eden Woon to AmCham in September. He and the team have been very busy, and we especially value his leadership during this pivotal time in Hong Kong.
So, with all of those achievements behind us, I'd like to congratulate our past Chairman Joe for his leadership in a challenging year. I also want to thank our outgoing Treasurer, Sabrina Lin, who took on a role that, needless to say, was critical during a year of economic headwinds. And, finally, a big thanks to our outgoing board members: Rick Truscott, Jenny Wong, Sue Toomey, Samuel Wu, Jon Penrice, and Todd Bryan, as well as Robert Grieves, for their many years of support and dedication to AmCham.
We should all be proud of the way we ended the year. AmCham remains the largest international chamber in Hong Kong. Our community has never been stronger, and over the last 2 years our membership participation has grown by more than 70%. Our membership renewal rate in 2022 was 80%, which was the highest in several years. This growth is testament to our impact and the strength of our 16 committees, which are really centers of excellence and thought leadership for their industries.
Today, our more than 2,000 members represent in excess of 500 companies from diverse industries such as financial services, consumer goods, manufacturing, law, logistics, and many more. And our members are as diverse as the industries they represent, coming the United States, Hong Kong, mainland China, Europe, and East and South Asia.
Looking ahead to 2023
So, what does 2023 hold for AmCham? The picture is very different from just a year ago. I have read many characterizations of the Year of the Rabbit, but the one that I liked best was this one: “The Year of the Rabbit is one where the sacrifices of the past are rewarded generously.” I think all of us, especially here in Hong Kong and China, deserve some reward after the challenges of the past few years. So I welcome the Year of the Rabbit!
Putting aside astrology, I think it is clear that 2023 will be the year of reopening and renewed engagement. With the resumption of travel to and from Hong Kong and mainland China, including across the border, we are at a long-anticipated inflection point that brings with it a great deal of optimism. We should expect good things. Business travel and tourism are ramping up quickly. Families and colleagues are finally reunited. Gradually, we will restore Hong Kong’s connectivity – that essential feature that has always made the city an unrivaled international business center and super-connector.
Of course, we know that reopening may not be smooth. There will likely be delays and complications. Restoring flight capacity, for example, takes time. Rebuilding connections and confidence will take time. But the direction is clear, and we are optimistic about the future and prepared to support our members and partners in navigating what comes next as Hong Kong re-emerges on the world stage.
Advocacy & Engagement
A lot has happened in the past three years, but one thing that has been distinctly lacking is real engagement. That has been the cost of isolation. We have missed the personal connections, the people-to-people, in-person meetings and experiences that are essential to doing business and to achieving our objectives as a chamber. At our core, we deal in relationships – between members, with governments, with our community. When that contact is diminished, despite our best efforts, relationships and mutual understanding are weakened.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this broad lack of engagement in the world has been accompanied by calls for self-reliance, isolation, and decoupling. I heard this referred to last week as “geo-economic fragmentation.” Those are trends that do not help our members or our mission to foster commercial relationships.
As we embark on our engagement agenda for the year, we look forward to playing a role in restoring the networks and connections, and the dialogues and exchanges that play a crucial role in building mutual understanding and a less fragmented business environment.
You will see a lot of activity between AmCham and government officials – in Hong Kong, in Beijing, and in Washington. The resumption of travel allows us to return to full strength on this front. That means resuming annual visits to meet with government leaders in both Beijing and Washington, DC – our so-called door-knock visits. The objective is to make connections, maintain relationships, share our on-the-ground perspectives, and advocate for the policy support that keeps our companies investing and growing in Hong Kong and the region.
We will again lead delegations to South China to engage with business leaders and to meet with provincial and city officials. Our members are eager to understand the full potential of the Greater Bay Area region, and to begin moving from the discussion of the past few years toward concrete action and details of the GBA initiative.
We will once again receive senior business leaders and government officials during their visits to Hong Kong, as we have for decades. We hope that these visits will resume soon so that people can see for themselves the potential of the business environment in Hong Kong, and so we can share our perspectives with them.
Of course, the core of our advocacy will continue to take place here at home in Hong Kong. Our 16 industry committees are constantly engaged with Hong Kong regulators to provide policy guidance, and our leadership team and Government Affairs committee maintain a regular dialogue with SAR leaders to help shape a business environment that is world-class.
We will do this through our detailed recommendations to the Chief Executive’s Policy Address, as we do every year. We will also leverage the International Business Committee, which remains a vital channel for us to interact, together with other business chambers, with the SAR leadership on issues of interest to the international business community. We look forward to the continuation of the IBC in the coming year.
At the same time, we remain closely engaged with the U.S. Consulate on commercial matters – to organize advocacy, to seek policy support, and to support the American business community in any way we can. We are extremely grateful for the work of the Consul General and his team for their steadfast and tireless efforts in helping us to resolve some tough policy issues, especially during the past year of Covid restrictions. I look forward to our continued work together.
It bears repeating (because someone asked me this just last week) that AmCham is not a government entity. Our organization is independent, 100% member-funded, and non-profit – as we have been since our founding. But we do stand, along with the U.S. Consulate, as one of five American Pillars in Hong Kong that represent not only U.S. business interests, but the broader ambitions and values of the American community. Together with the American Club, the American Women's Association (AWA), the AmCham Charitable Foundation, and Hong Kong International School, we come together to share our views, and also to support the local Hong Kong communities in which we operate.
Key initiatives and events
As Hong Kong reconnects and AmCham re-engages, we are especially looking forward to getting back to the large-scale, in-person events that in the past have been some of our most memorable, meaningful, and successful business community gatherings. To give you an idea what is coming up this year:
- WOI – 2023 will be an important year for AmCham’s Women of Influence, with the 19th annual Awards Ceremony to be held on Feb 21. For 19 years, this initiative has played a critical and influential role in advocating for women’s advancement in Hong Kong and globally, advancing a shared vision of championing women leaders in the workplace. I hope you will join us for this in February.
- The Onward Hong Kong series will continue throughout the year. We will host forward-looking, deep-dive discussions on Hong Kong’s next 25 years, exploring the city’s role as a smart and sustainable city; a supply chain hub; an art, sports & cultural center; and a city of regional cooperation in Asia-Pacific.
- The Future Leaders Program, which this year will kick off in April, selects a group of rising young executives to focus on developing the skills and professional connections they’ll need to achieve their full potential. Over 6 months, the course will provide exclusive access to the businesses and leaders that are driving Hong Kong’s economy. This program is in its fourth year and is one of my favorites – I have met the most impressive people in this program who I am pleased to now have as colleagues and friends – and fellow AmCham board members!
- The AmCham Ball, one of the most popular events at AmCham will be back this fall. Stay tuned for the announcement.
- And many other events and gathers.
Even as we look ahead, finally, to post-pandemic life and what the reopening of Hong Kong and China will bring – more engagement, more events, more commerce and trade, more travel, and greater mutual understanding – we know there will be challenges.
For one thing, the tenuous U.S.-China relationship remains top of mind for our members. At our last count, nearly 9 in 10 members said their business was directly affected by those bilateral tensions. Despite a recent tactical pause in the downward trajectory, we know the relationship remains fraught and geopolitics will continue to loom large. We will continue to be a trusted voice of the business community, and will speak on behalf of members, who seek a stable economic and commercial relationship between the world’s two largest economies.
There are also features of the global “permacrisis” in which we now find ourselves that will complicate our mission – a low growth, high inflation global economy, climate disaster, food insecurity, and war, to name a few. Each is a significant challenge in its own right.
And, when it comes to Hong Kong specifically, there are those who doubt whether the city’s full reopening necessarily means a return to business as usual. While the “One Country, Two Systems” framework is intact, some continue to question the future of private enterprise, the rule of law, regulatory transparency, and the free flow of information, people, and capital in Hong Kong.
These are the features that must be preserved for our business community to thrive, and for Hong Kong to maintain its stature as an international business center. These are also the core values of AmCham – we have always advocated to strengthen these elements of Hong Kong’s business environment, and our members, committees, and board leaders will remain focused on preserving them.
The “One Country, Two Systems” framework is essential to the success of businesses in Hong Kong. Going forward, AmCham’s view is that, to support the economy and attract businesses and talent, the Hong Kong Government must reassure foreign investors and the business community that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is vibrant and intact, and will be preserved and promoted as the bedrock of Hong Kong as an international business center.
The setbacks we have experienced in Hong Kong are real. Our three years of isolation are estimated to have cost us as much as $27 billion in potential growth. The HKSAR government itself estimated that 116,000 people have left the city’s workforce in the past 2 years. It will take real work for the city to recover, and resilience will be essential. But at AmCham we are confident in Hong Kong’s resilience, and we are prepared to do the work. In the coming year, we will prioritize:
- Maximizing the reopening of Hong Kong in the post-Covid world
- Refreshing our advocacy and engagement agenda
- Leveraging opportunities in the Greater Bay Area and the broader region
- Continuing our signature events and community gatherings
- Expanding our role as a responsible community stakeholder
There is a lot to do. The good news is that many of our programs are already well underway. We ended 2022 as we intended to begin 2023, and it will be a busy year as we continue those efforts.
Finally, I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome our new board members: Mukul Deoras, Mary McHale, Felicity McRobb, Jennifer Parks, Brett Stephenson, Krish Sundaresan and Michelle Wei who joined the board this year.
I am excited to work with all of you – the board, committee chairs, the staff team, and all our members – and look forward to a successful year!