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Further expanding professional services sector

The dinner gatherings that I attended yesterday and two days ago were both related to the professional services sector.

Yesterday evening, the United States’ (US) Urban Land Institute (ULI) held a banquet at Government House for guests attending its Asia-Pacific conference. Twelve years ago, I was appointed as the inaugural Chairman of ULI North Asia, the business of which was later expanded to cover the entire Asia-Pacific region.

The ULI is the US’ largest multi-disciplinary organisation dealing with land issues. The ULI chose to set up its Asia-Pacific base in Hong Kong because it holds high regard for Hong Kong’s professional services, and also because it attaches great importance to the development of its business in Mainland China.

Two days ago, I attended the 15th anniversary dinner of the Hong Kong Coalition of Professional Services (HKCPS). Established in 2001, the HKCPS consists of 10 professional bodies, namely the Law Society of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Bar Association, the Hong Kong Medical Association, the Hong Kong Dental Association, the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Hong Kong Institute of Planners, the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, the Hong Kong Institute of Architects and the Hong Kong Institute of Landscape Architects. The HKCPS only has group members and does not offer individual membership.

I was the HKCPS’ founding Chairman. In retrospect, it was nothing short of a miracle that all 10 major professional bodies in Hong Kong could be lined up. In approving the HKCPS’ constitution alone, we needed to seek separate approvals from the boards of directors of all 10 bodies (similar to the present situation in which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government has to conclude negotiations separately with all 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regarding the Hong Kong-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement).

More than three decades ago, when Mainland China had just begun its reform and opening up, Hong Kong professionals crossed the Lo Wu Bridge to contribute, selflessly, to national development. One of my purposes for establishing the HKCPS was to transfer professional skills to the Mainland. I did so also out of my belief that the Mainland would become the biggest and most promising market for Hong Kong’s professional services sector. At that time, many people were pessimistic about the industry’s prospects in the Mainland because Mainland people were not used to paying for professional services. These services, if charged at the same level as in Hong Kong, would not be affordable to the Mainland. Another reason was that Hong Kong people lacked social networks in the Mainland.

Today, the Mainland is undoubtedly the biggest market for Hong Kong’s professional services sector. We provide services in the Mainland for local clients, and attract Mainland clients to Hong Kong for our services. The professional services sector has become a major driving force of our social and economic development. In the 10 years between 2004 and 2014, the Gross Domestic Product contributed by professional services grew by an annual average rate of 8.7%, much higher than the growth rates of financial services, trade and logistics. This remarkable performance shows that where there is a will, there is a way. Having tapped into the Mainland market, we can now provide our young professionals with better employment opportunities.

In order to further expand Hong Kong’s professional services sector, I announced in this year’s Policy Address the allocation of $200 million to support our professional services sector in enhancing exchanges and co-operation with Belt and Road countries and other regions outside Hong Kong. I am glad to announce that the Professional Services Advancement Support Scheme, which implements my proposal in the Policy Address, will be officially launched next Thursday (November 24).

I appeal to the professional services sector to work together with the Government in going forward.

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November 15, 2016