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Putting heads together for better economic development

The newly established Economic Development Commission held its first meeting the day before yesterday (March 13). Now I would like to brief you on the concept behind its establishment, the gist of the meeting and the Government's role and functions in economic development.

The new Government attaches great importance to economic development because only when we have an economy that grows at a high rate and in a sustained way can we have the necessary resources to tackle the long-standing, deep-seated problems in the community, in regard to areas including poverty, housing, an ageing population and the upward mobility of young people. So the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government places as much emphasis on economic development as it does on people's livelihoods.

It is generally agreed that we can do better to promote Hong Kong's economic development, especially because we have the fast-developing Mainland of China as our market and hinterland. In this regard, the finance, industrial, commercial and professional sectors have put forward a lot of views and suggestions from time to time. It is therefore necessary for us to pool members of these sectors, experts and academics together to explore with the Government possible ways to boost our economy.

Preceded by four preparatory meetings, the first meeting of the Commission was attended by nearly 20 non-official members, including leaders of various sectors, experts and academics, as well as former government officials from Taiwan and Singapore, and state-level economists who once worked in Hong Kong for a long time and are now stationed in Beijing. As a result, we are hearing views from inside and outside Hong Kong, especially from people who have relevant experience in places where the relationship between government and economic development is different from ours.

The Commission has set up four working groups, each led by a convenor. The convenor of the Working Group on Transportation is Mr Chow Chung-kong. By transportation, we mean both air and maritime transport, covering not only logistics but also other support services, such as ship brokering, finance, insurance and registration and legal services.

The other convenors are Mr Jack So of the Working Group on Convention and Exhibition Industries and Tourism; Dr Victor Lo of the Working Group on Manufacturing Industries, Innovative Technology, and Cultural and Creative Industries; and Mr Lau Ping-cheung of the Working Group on Professional Services.

At the meeting, the Commission approved its terms of reference, mode of operation, system for declaration of interests and confidentiality requirements. The Government Economist presented a detailed report on changes in our economic structure. As Hong Kong has undergone tremendous changes in recent years, we should learn more about these changes and their causes and anticipate changes in the future.

The terms of reference of the four working groups were also discussed and finalised at the meeting.

Since there had already been ample discussions in the community about the current situation of and challenges to Hong Kong's economic development, I asked the members of the Commission to tell the Government what exactly it should do and how it should act to promote the development of various industries in Hong Kong and bring benefits to the community. That is the specific request I made to the members of the Commission.

The views expressed by members at the meeting can be summarised into the following key points. Nearly all members who spoke expressed that they were encouraged by the positive view held by the current-term Government on its role and functions in economic development. This is the first point. Second, Hong Kong's economy can be better developed with the Government playing a more active and proactive role. Third, a long-term plan underpinned by a macro perspective is needed and should be followed through. Fourth, industries should be scaled up - in other words, we should "think massively". Fifth, the Mainland and overseas markets should be further expanded. Sixth, the contribution of the manufacturing sector to Hong Kong should be reassessed and recognised. Seventh, we should think out of the box and learn from the successful experiences of the Mainland of China, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea in public-private partnership. Eighth, education quality and curriculum design are important.

In general, the members are optimistic that better and faster economic development can be achieved if the Government plays an appropriately proactive role in this regard.

At the meeting, I shared with members some views on economic development. First, as advocated in my Manifesto, the Government should be appropriately proactive. There are precedents of government participation, even in the form of direct investment. In the past, we promoted the development of some key industries through direct investment. Examples include the Ocean Park and Disneyland, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited, the MTR and industrial estates. Therefore, the Government making direct investment when necessary is not unprecedented.

The Commission's recommendations, once adopted by the Government, will be incorporated into the Policy Address or the Budget of the following year, becoming part of government policy. Subject to negotiations between the HKSAR Government and the Central Government and local authorities in the Mainland, they may also become new co-operation items under the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, the National 13th Five-Year Plan, the Hong Kong/Guangdong and "9+2" pan-Pearl River Delta co-operation frameworks, and more. This shows that the Commission is not simply a forum for comment and discussion but a committee that will put forward specific recommendations.

Last week when I was in Beijing attending the opening of the National People's Congress, I met with the party secretaries of Guangdong Province, the Guangxi Autonomous Region, Beijing and Chongqing separately to discuss further co-operation, especially in economic development. Tomorrow, I will go to Beijing again to meet the newly appointed leaders of state ministries and commissions at the first opportunity. Similarly, we will focus on co-operation in economic development in our discussions.

I sincerely hope that you will continue to take note of the efforts of the Government to promote economic development, and offer us your valuable advice from time to time.

March 15, 2013