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Substantial gains to Hong Kong

14 April 2000

With the impending accession of China to the World Trade Organisation, the likely expansion of its trade links and investment relations with the rest of the world should bring substantial gains to Hong Kong.

This was said today (Friday) by the Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr John Tsang Chun-wah, when attending a breakfast meeting in Melbourne to talk to the local business community about the recent development in Hong Kong's economy, control of strategic goods, fight against intellectual property rights infringement and smuggling of illegal immigrants.

"The contagion impact of the Asian financial turmoil which brought about Hong Kong's worst economic downturn ever is now history," Mr Tsang added.

He noted that Hong Kong's economy had gone through a difficult period of adjustment.

"We are seeing a rebound of economic opportunities to our part of the world, and we in Hong Kong should stand to benefit from it.

"We have totally free trade in a textbook market setting, level playing field for all, a low and simple tax regime, and unfettered flow of information," Mr Tsang said.

He told the local businessmen that Hong Kong also had an accountable, clean and business-friendly civil service, buttressed by the rule of law and an independent judiciary.

Speaking on the control of strategic goods in Hong Kong, Mr Tsang stressed that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, as an active and responsible player in the global economy, was fully committed to operating a law-based, transparent, stringent and internationally accepted system of controls on the trade of strategic commodities.

"Hong Kong has also maintained an excellent track record in enforcing our laws vigorously and objectively," he went on.

There had been numerous examples of success, Mr Tsang said, adding that the control system had been commended by all the key players of strategic export control regimes, including the Australian administration.

"The excellent system of control in Hong Kong is well recognised. In fact, in the Seventh Report of the Task Force on the Hong Kong Transition presented by US Congressman Doug Bereuter in February this year, it is stated that 'Hong Kong has one of the finest systems of export controls in the world and the reversion to Chinese sovereignty appears to have no major impact on the exercise of export controls'," said Mr Tsang.

The Report also stated that 'Hong Kong's record of enforcement of its export control regime is good'.

"As to the groundless allegation contained in the highly politically charged Cox Report concerning the transshipment of technology by the PLA, Bereuter reported that 'A recent visit to Hong Kong by staff members of the House International Relations Committee found that there is no evidence to suggest that the PLA is smuggling controlled items into China'," he said.

Turning to the fight against intellectual property rights infringement, Mr Tsang noted that the situation in Hong Kong was fully under control.

He said Customs officers would continue to spare no effort in combating piracy activities in Hong Kong, despite the fact that about 90 per cent of the retail outlets selling pirated products had closed.

"Now that we have broken the back of the illicit business in the piracy of intellectual property in Hong Kong, we have even greater confidence in promoting technological innovation in our economy," he added.

On smuggling of illegal immigrants issue, Mr Tsang maintained that the Hong Kong Customs had been exercising a sound mechanism in checking cargoes to prevent smuggling.

"We use a 'risk assessment' approach in selecting cargoes for examination, and the system has proved to be effective," he explained.

In response to recent discovery of illegal immigrants travelling by containers and to curb the smugglers from using Hong Kong as a transit base for human smuggling, he said the Hong Kong Customs had sought enhanced co-operation from the trade, including major shipping companies and agents, container terminal operators and the major associations.

The parties concerned recognised immediately the gravity of the issue, Mr Tsang noted, adding that they were able to reach very quickly a consensus to adopt a battery of measures, including shipping companies to report to Customs intended shipments of "soft-top" containers prior to export.

Other measures included the tightening of security measures by container terminal operators and the employment of modern technology to detect illegal immigrants hiding in containers; Shipping companies and container operators to report to Customs through a special hotline on any suspicious outbound shipments, and shipping companies to check new clients' business particulars before accepting business.

"On our part, we have enhanced our examination of outgoing "soft-top" and refrigerated containers. So far, the results are encouraging," Mr Tsang concluded.

The Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr John Tsang Chun-wah, has just spent five days in Australia to attend a World Customs Organisation regional conference for heads of Customs Administrations organised by the Government of Australia. He will return to Hong Kong this evening.

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