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Welcoming Dinner for the 2nd Meeting of the European Commission / Hong Kong, China Joint Customs Cooperation Committee (English Only)

21 November 2000

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good evening.

It is my great pleasure to see all of you here tonight. In particular, I would like to welcome the delegates of the European Commission, who have come to Hong Kong to attend the Second Meeting of the Joint Customs Cooperation Committee set up under the Agreement between the European Community and Hong Kong, China on cooperation and mutual administrative assistance in customs matters.

The Joint Committee is tasked to see to the proper functioning of the Agreement and to make recommendations in order to facilitate its proper implementation. We had a fruitful and constructive meeting this morning. We reviewed the extent of cooperation between the two sides in the past year, and we had in-depth discussions on exchange of information, protection of intellectual property rights, computerization of customs procedures, provision of technical assistance as well as implementation of international conventions.

Following the Asian financial crisis, the Hong Kong economy went through a difficult period of adjustment, but you can see for yourselves that Hong Kong is rebounding well. We are moving steadily into a knowledge-based economy, focusing our efforts on innovation and technology.

We have also maintained ourselves as that bastion of free market economy. Earlier this month, Hong Kong was named the world's freest economy for the seventh consecutive year by the Heritage Foundation. We were recognized particularly for our rule of law, lack of trade barriers, low and simple tax regime and unfettered flow of information. These acknowledgements should serve to ease the concerns raised in the Cushnahan Report on Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong is the freest market in the world. We provide a level playing field under a proper regulatory environment. We have a highly competitive business sector and minimal government intervention. We also have an accountable, clean and business-friendly civil service, buttressed by an independent judiciary. The economic freedom in Hong Kong has been, and will continue to be, a fundamental driving force behind our success.

The Hong Kong Customs, as the law enforcement arm of our economy, will strive hard to contribute to the stability and prosperity of the community. Our tasks are multi-faceted and we have made successful enforcement results in many areas. Tonight, I would like to touch on two issues which may be of some interest to you. They are copyright piracy and human smuggling. 

I don't think I need to say too much on the first subject. My former boss, who is now working in your Commission, has covered that in his usual flamboyant way in the European Parliament debate recently. I am grateful to him for the solid vote of confidence and the very kind words.

We have, indeed, made significant progress in a very short time, and as a result, we have accumulated a great deal of experience in dealing with piracy in different levels. As technological advances are beginning to alter the consumption habits of the European population, and I am referring particularly to the increasing popularity of the DVD technology in Europe, the extent of piracy activities in Europe will no doubt become even more serious. You will have to devise new strategies and tactics to deal with this growing problem. If you should require any assistance, we would be more than happy to share with your enforcement agencies how we have tackled this problem so successfully in the past year.

We see copyright piracy as an issue which transcends any single locality. We need to help each other so that the pirates would not be able to arbitrage between regions. To achieve ultimate success in our fight against copyright piracy, we must all work together.

The next issue, the smuggling of illegal immigrants, is also a huge international issue. For our part, we have taken vigorous action to prevent Hong Kong from being used by human smugglers as a staging point for transit to other countries. The successful discovery by Hong Kong Customs of 26 illegal migrants hiding in a container at the Kwai Chung container terminal last month underlined the success of our system as well as the extent of our determination in curbing human smuggling activities. In fact, the six cases of detection of illegal immigrants in North America earlier this year were based on tip-offs from Hong Kong Customs.

We have deployed considerable resources and manpower in a proactive strategy against this inhuman trade. We have used successfully palm-sized carbon dioxide detectors to carry out spot checks on suspicious containers. We will be installing a number of X-ray scanners to further strengthen our capability of screening the contents of cargo containers. 

We will also keep up our close cooperation with local and overseas law enforcement authorities as well as the trade to ensure that Hong Kong will be a place that human smugglers will avoid. However, we are conscious of the need to work together with other administrations if we were to eradicate this obnoxious and immoral business worldwide.

Our guests from Europe will have an opportunity to see for themselves in the next two days how our system works when they visit our facilities at the airport and the land boundary. I hope by the time you leave Hong Kong, not only will you agree that we are serious about our customs commitments, you will also agree that Hong Kong is a vibrant modern city that is on the leading edge of business, building a platform of innovation to launch into the 21st century. Above all, I hope you all will have a most enjoyable stay in our city.
Thank you. 

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