Building on a year of achievement and success in calling for action on the longs – tanding issues that have a direct impact on Hong Kong’s status as a center of international business and commerce, Peter Levesque – Chief Commercial Officer of Modern Terminals and re-elected as AmCham chairman for a second term – tells of the Chamber’s role in fostering business and government relationships around the world and helping to tell Hong Kong’s unique story and position in the region.
By Kenny Lau
In 2014 – amid a 45th anniversary celebration – AmCham Hong Kong under the leadership of Chairman Peter Levesque engaged in a campaign “beyond advocacy” to address the urgent need for action on the longstanding critical issues that have a direct impact on Hong Kong’s overall competitiveness – a key area which largely determines the city’s status as an international business center.
“As we move on to the business of 2015, I am pleased to report that some progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go,” says Levesque, who is re-elected as Chairman for a second term. “The American Chamber of Commerce remains bullish on the success of Hong Kong, and we are prepared to do our part together with government and business leaders to help solidify a relevant, vibrant and meaningful role for Hong Kong’s future.”
“We strongly believe that the role of a ‘statesman’ to bridge the gap between a country’s experience and its vision is a responsibility that we all share in Hong Kong, and moving forward, AmCham will continue to foster business and government relationships around the world and help to tell Hong Kong’s unique story and position in the region.”
To remain a highly competitive city in which private enterprises – large and small – can continue to thrive, Levesque believes Hong Kong needs to answer some important and fundamental questions about its long-term vision.
- Is Hong Kong content to accept incremental improvements in its educational system, or is Hong Kong’s vision to be the model for primary school education and the center for academia and thought leadership in the region?
- Is Hong Kong satisfied to be an RMB center, or is Hong Kong’s vision to be the international finance center and the standard bearer around the world for IPOs and corporate governance?
- Is it sufficient for Hong Kong to enact IPR law, or is Hong Kong’s vision to set the standard for the protection of ideas, and to be the region’s incubator for new technology, entertainment and entrepreneurship?
- Does Hong Kong accept its declining position in transportation and logistics, or is Hong Kong’s vision to be a world-class international logistics hub and global maritime center?
- And, is Hong Kong committed to maintaining the characteristics that have made it so successful over the years – rule of law, freedom of speech and the press, and an independent judiciary. Or, is Hong Kong destined to become just another city in China with no distinguishing characteristics whatsoever?
“These are serious questions that require careful consideration,” Levesque stresses. “When the world reads about Hong Kong’s story 20 years from now, will they see a defining moment and a time of focus and clarity in which we as a city took the visionary steps necessary to ensure a relevant and meaningful role in the region and in the world?”
“Or, years from now, will the world look back and say that while Hong Kong slept, the success of regional competitions – including the rise of China – passed us by, and that this was instead a time of colossal missed opportunity?”
“While AmCham supports the government initiatives currently underway to address the day-to-day issues about Hong Kong’s regional competitiveness, we also strongly encourage a more comprehensive and visionary approach to developing and articulating Hong Kong’s longer-term goals,” he adds.
The issue of education remains at the core of Hong Kong’s future success in the region, and AmCham is committed to the call for the Education Department to improve special education and teacher training and to place greater emphasis on teaching math, science, English and Mandarin in local schools to better prepare students for the realities of the local and regional job market.
AmCham also renews its call for more international school places to enable the best and brightest of human capital to live and work in Hong Kong and to attract more of the world’s leading corporations to establish a presence in the city.
AmCham’s Educational Affairs Group (EAG), led by Board member
Eden Woon, had a very productive year in 2014, Levesque points out, including a successful letter of support to save the International Montessori School in Tin Hau, and the creation of a new outreach program that brings AmCham leaders into local schools to share their experiences with local students.
“We support efforts of Hong Kong’s business community in making a real difference in the area of education, by volunteering time and financial resources to ensure, for example, that local students who don’t go to college have the skills they need to be successful in the job market,” he says, highlighting Project WeCan, a Wharf Group initiative that addresses the 82 percent of Hong Kong secondary school students who do not go onto college.
AmCham places a great deal of emphasis on the financial sector, specifically on the development of Hong Kong as an international financial center. To be a true international financial center, however, certain core behaviors must be recognized and achieved, Levesque notes.
First, Hong Kong must make it clear to the global financial community that it commits to the highest level of best practice in the area of corporate governance, he says. “In fact, AmCham looks to Hong Kong to be the standard bearer for corporate governance not just in the region but around the world.”
Second, Hong Kong must assign an independent audit regulator to the financial sector, separate from the profession, with clear authority to implement sanctions, he adds. And, the financial community must definitively reject any effort to move away from the long-standing “one share, one vote” principle in Hong Kong.
“Through efforts of board member Ewan Copeland, AmCham’s Financial Strategies Group (FSG) has become a major success, enabling high-level interaction with US Federal Reserve Governors, Hong Kong finance officials, and world-class think tanks,” Levesque says. “Our membership from major global financial institutions has increased significantly as a result.”
Intellectual Property Rights
A key attribute of Hong Kong’s competitiveness is its ability to attract and retain innovative companies and creative talent. These types of industries are a viable economic opportunity for Hong Kong, but knowledge economies depend on the rule of law and the highest standards around intellectual property rights (IPR) protection.
Online piracy and unauthorized digital distribution are serious issues that must be addressed in order for Hong Kong to attract and retain 21st century business and investment. In support of a reform on relevant rules and regulations, AmCham in 2014 held a copyright forum, which brought together 80 leading experts, industry stakeholders, and government representatives who stressed the urgency of copyright reform in Hong Kong.
“We were encouraged by the government’s re-introduction of the Copyright Amendment Bill (2014), and we continue to call for the swift passage of this bill as a positive step in ensuring Hong Kong’s business success,” Levesque says. “With the expertise and guidance of Board member Belinda Lui, AmCham has formed an Intellectual Property Strategic Group (IPSG), which will provide thought leadership across a range of intellectual property issues.”
Transportation and Logistics
The transportation and logistics sector remains a key area of AmCham’s focus in 2015, and unfortunately this is an area that has seen little progress by the government over the last 24 months.
“The good news is that the Hong Kong Government in December 2014 released its Port 2030 paper outlining the steps that must be taken to maintain Hong Kong’s competitive position in the maritime sector,” Levesque notes. “The bad news is that the areas listed as requiring attention are the same areas that were listed in the last report, which was completed over 10 years ago.”
“This pillar of the economy cannot afford another decade of consultation and debate before taking the necessary action required to save it,” he cautions. “The port sector supports over 93,000 employees, and if it disappears, thousands of hard working people will struggle to find meaningful employment to support their families.”
“For Hong Kong to remain competitive in this area, we urge the government to approve long-term leases for back-up land in the Kwai Tsing Port Zone, approve the building of additional dedicated barge berths adjacent to the port zone, allow the conversion of underutilized space for port operations, and allow a more streamlined process to license internal truckers at the terminal,” Levesque stresses.
“As Hong Kong’s container port slips another notch from number three in the world to number four, we urge the government to initiate a coordinated effort across the Transport and Housing Bureau, Development Bureau, Lands Department, Marine Department and other stakeholders to end the inter-departmental gridlock,” he adds.
For the last several years, AmCham’s Environmental Steering Group (ESG), under the leadership of Evan Auyang, has actively engaged with the Hong Kong Government on the key issues around sustainability. AmCham committee chairs from Environment, Real Estate, Energy, and Transportation & Logistics comprise this cross-functional group, as well as leading experts from various other industries and concerns.
AmCham continues to call for government action to improve local air quality, Levesque says. “The fact is that Hong Kong’s green mobility policies continue to lag behind those of many international cities, and as the government continues to build more roads and railways, it must clearly define road space usage and work to make road-based mass transport more efficient.”
“For marine emissions, we again call upon the government to take a leadership role in working with Guangdong authorities to develop and implement an emissions control area, as a more holistic approach to tackling the problem of marine pollution across Hong Kong and South China,” he adds.
“Air quality is a complex issue, but with the health and well-being of 7 million people at stake as well as the potential impact on Hong Kong’s regional competitiveness, it’s an issue that requires the highest degree of focus and attention,” he believes. “We are encouraged by the level of attention given to this issue by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong and Environment Bureau’s KS Wong and Christine Loh.”
In 2014 AmCham’s China Affairs Group (CAG), in collaboration with the Chamber’s China Business Committee (CBC), held 85 China-related meetings and events, including nine trips to Mainland China, including a high-level delegation to Beijing, where delegates met with officials of seven central government ministries.
“The China Affairs Group provides AmCham members with exceptional access to government officials and valuable business intelligence on China,” Levesque says. “AmCham will continue to build upon the strengths and influence of this important group throughout 2015.”
AmCham in 2014 dedicated much of the year to developing its own longterm vision and strategy for the future and released a new five-year plan called AmCham 2020.
“Throughout this process we asked ourselves many important questions about who we are and what we stand for,” Levesque notes. “We thought about our value proposition, our geographic scope, and we made some core assumptions on what we thought Hong Kong and the region might look like over the next five years, in order to anticipate the future needs of our dynamic and multinational membership.”
“Over the next several years, we will strengthen our core operation and support of current and future goals, and provide additional value to members through network management and member communications by developing targeted programs and services to meet the changing needs of our members,” he reveals.
“Additionally, we will reinforce the strength and reputation of the AmCham brand, enhance advocacy initiatives, grow our revenue base, and expand our reach through social media, webcasts and other technologies,” he adds.
In short, AmCham remains steadfast in its commitment to working with the government, with the international business community and with the dynamic entrepreneurs and community leaders who reside here, to help move Hong Kong forward. The chamber will continue to advocate on the issues that have an impact on Hong Kong’s regional competitiveness.
While there are many challenges and opportunities ahead, there can be no doubt that this is a defining moment in Hong Kong’s history, Levesque believes. “It’s a time for clarity and for honest reflection. It’s a time for healing and reconciliation. And, it’s a time to raise the level of constructive dialogue to address the social and economic concerns that many Hong Kong citizens have about their future.”
“It’s a story that continues to evolve, and AmCham is confident that with vision, and determination, future generations of Hong Kong, working and thriving in an integrated global megacity, will someday look back on this period of time and say that we saw the future and that we did what was necessary to secure a relevant and meaningful role for Hong Kong in the region and around the world,” he says.
“In the months and years ahead, we will continue to do its part to ensure that Hong Kong’s story is one that we can all be proud of.”