In the month of April, under the guidance of the board and committees, AmCham has made advocacy submissions to the Hong Kong government on pending legislations regarding the local ivory trade and marketing of infant formula, in addition to welcoming Hong Kong’s Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam who will take office on the first of July

By Kenny Lau

AmCham Supports Ban on Ivory Trade

The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong fully supports the government’s efforts to phase out the local ivory trade and to increase the maximum penalties for wildlife crime. With support from both U.S. and Chinese governments to combat wildlife trafficking, Hong Kong must take an active role in protecting the natural environment and showcase its reputation as a city of ethical and responsible businesses.

In a letter of support to Tanya Chan, Chairman of the Legislative Council’s Panel on Environmental Affairs, AmCham applauds the pledge to ban the local ivory trade and suggests that strengthened law enforcement against the smuggling of ivory also be carried out simultaneously. As China has announced a ban on ivory trade, Hong Kong needs to close the legal loopholes and eliminate abuse of the licensing system.

According to global conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Hong Kong has more than a hundred tons of legal ivory (taken before the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in the possession of some 400 local license holders. However, illegal ivory trade – often using legal ivory as a front – is evident in Hong Kong; over 33 tons of post-ban ivory tusks from freshly killed elephants have been seized in the city since 2000.

A significant amount of illegal ivory extracted from poached elephants smuggled out of Africa often end up in Hong Kong (which ranks fifth globally in terms of illegal ivory seized), while China is the largest market for elephant ivory. The impact on wild elephants is staggering: over 30,000 are killed every year in Africa, primarily for their tusks, according to WWF. It is part of the global illegal wildlife trade valued at over US$19 billion annually – a problem Hong Kong should help tackle.

10 Opportunities for HKSAR’s New Leadership

As Hong Kong prepares to inaugurate Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam who will take office on the first of July, AmCham is hopeful that she will become the city’s foremost brand manager promoting Hong Kong’s strategic position as a unique and international city of China and how Hong Kong will strengthen its competitiveness to remain a regional powerhouse.

“The Chamber has known and worked with Carrie for many years through the international business community and many other occasions, and we look forward to working closer with her to enhance Hong Kong’s position as a world-class city in Asia by increasing our competitiveness and livability,” says AmCham Chairman Walter Dias.

Upon the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, AmCham believes there are 10 policy areas that the incoming administration should champion for the city: 

  1. Devise a strategic position for Hong Kong’s economic development and communicate overtly and effectively its position to the broader community here and overseas to make Hong Kong a visible and active thought leader in driving a new era of growth;
  2. Narrow the social divide and uplift citizens’ spirit towards the opportunities associated with Hong Kong’s strategic and advantageous position as a gateway to China, global innovative powerhouse and window for Chinese enterprises to go overseas;
  3. Proactively present the strong business case and successful stories of how the core values such as rule of law, freedoms and world-class business ethics guaranteed by the ‘One Country Two Systems’ bring about new opportunities in the new, digital economy;
  4. Transform the mindset of government to strike a balance between over-regulation and promotion of innovation so as to ensure a genuine ecosystem for building an innovation economy can take place;
  5. Facilitate more and deepen public-private partnership to spearhead government initiatives or incubate projects that could bring in innovation and talents to Hong Kong, and decentralize government powers where applicable to facilitate bottom-up participation;
  6. Be a robust international city role model for China and thought leader in Hong Kong’s business synergy with Southern China leveraging its strong hardware and software, and play the super connector role of China in Belt and Road and other international business opportunities;
  7. Make education a top priority to cultivate a future workforce with global mindset, high IT literacy and diversity, which also addresses that problem of social mobility to ensure the broad population is equipped with skills that match the fast-changing business needs;
  8. Make Hong Kong a livable and sustainable environment for expatriates by lowering the costs of living and doing business, and improving the environment with greater energy efficiency and planning of space towards sustainability;
  9. Strengthen the already strong US-Hong Kong link in trade, innovation, education and culture to facilitate more frequent flows of technology transfer, education exchange, tourism, and potentially many other areas of collaboration; and
  10. Take a strong advocacy position in regional institutions and negotiations such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Hong Kong’s opportunities as the unique international city of China.

The Right to Information

It is paramount that Hong Kong maintains the highest standard in the safety of our food supply, and it is equally important that the same standard is applied to the supply of formula milk from which infants and young children in Hong Kong can properly and adequately be nourished.

That’s precisely the intent of the latest draft of the Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Formula Milk and Related Products, and Food Products for Infants & Young Children (“Hong Kong Code”), which was recently tabled to the Legislative Council Panel on Health Services for discussion.

AmCham maintains that three primary criteria be implemented in the Hong Kong Code, as stated in previous submissions in 2014 and 2015, regarding the regulatory framework in this area.

1. The Hong Kong Code should ensure a level playing field

The Chamber is of the view that if the Hong Kong Code, or similar regulations, were to be implemented in the form of voluntary guidelines only, it would not achieve the objective of providing full and accurate information to consumers. The voluntary nature would lead to unfairness and inequity in the market as there is no level playing field between compliant and non-compliant ones.

Some industry players will inevitably choose not to comply, and in such situations, consumers will be confused by the different marketing behavior of manufacturers and distributors, thus becoming susceptible to misguidance by non-compliant marketing practices. To ensure full compliance, implementation by legislation rather than making it a voluntary code would serve the purpose of consumer protection better.

2. Parents’ right to access information should be upheld

The health benefits of breastfeeding have been scientifically proven, and it should be promoted among parents of infants and young children. The government’s efforts to promote breastfeeding and to regulate the inappropriate marketing of breastmilk substitutes are well-founded. One issue, however, is the proposed regulation of related products intended for children aged up to 36 months.

The proposal goes beyond similar marketing restrictions in other developed countries, such as Singapore, New Zealand and Australia, where they are applied to products for infants up to 6 - 12 months. It is the fundamental right of consumers that information be available to consumers; otherwise, the capability of parents who need to provide complementary food to their children to make informed choices will be undermined.

3. Manufacturers’ right to provide information should be respected

Exaggerated or misleading information must not be allowed. Responsible industry players who comply with all relevant regulations in Hong Kong should be supported for their right to disseminate evidence-based, scientifically-proven information. Such information provision is regarded as fair participation in the Hong Kong market, and consumers can surely benefit from facts and genuine information.

The Chamber supports the government’s efforts to protect consumers, promote breastfeeding and develop a legal standard for marketing of infant formula. A balanced view among all stakeholders, including the industry as well as consumers, should be taken into account in any such effort so that it truly protects the interests of everyone involved in the community of Hong Kong.