Donald Tong Chi-keung, the most senior representative of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, made his first visit to Alaska last week to speak to the Alaska World Affairs Council, outlining Hong Kong's industrial highlights and its continuing business relationship with the United States.
As commissioner for Economic and Trade Affairs in America, Tong sees Alaska as an important factor in enhancing these industrial ties and hopes to continue to grow these relationships. Therefore, after his lecture in Anchorage, he stopped by Juneau to discuss those issues with Mayor Bruce Botelho and Commissioner Susan Bell of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.
"Our objective is to enhance awareness of Honk Kong and introduce Alaska to the role Hong Kong has in business here and mainland China," he said. "We specialize in promoting those ties."
Tong oversees operations in the separate Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and New York. He describes their work as a way to open doors to ventures that strengthen both cultural ties and trade agreements. He said this is especially important because of Hong Kong's high reliance on imports, since its local economy is based more on services than manufacturing, with trade and logistics being among the highest of their services.
"Ninety-two percent of GDP (gross domestic product) comes from service centers, so we import everything under the sun," he said. "Trades are very important."
As an example of how this could relate to Alaska dealings, he explained how seafood is a big commodity in Hong Kong. He said because this is a food product, the red tape involved for checking and importing it would be significantly less than in other places. He said this is part of what's helped the area rank so highly as a free economy.
"In Hong Kong we eat a lot of it so I se a lot of possibilities," he said, adding, "Alaska companies may want to expand operations in Hong Kong."
He commented on how the relationship is already solid as China is the second-largest export market for Alaska seafood.
Besides seafood, Tong said he talked with Bell about initial public offering operations for minerals. He said Hong Kong has had success in IPOs and could be a possible venue for Alaska companies.
He said Alaska's exports could also bypass certain costs and product customs under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement if those companies are incorporated in Hong Kong.
Tong sees many other similarities between Alaska and Hong Kong. Another one that caught his attention was the tourism industry. As he put it, "Tourism is very important, like here."
He said Hong Kong had an unprecedented 29.6 million visitors throughout last year, and he wants that number to keep growing. He said this year's tourist has generated an approximate 25 percent growth so far. He said Americans are its fourth-largest source for those tourists.
He believes that tourism officials here can collaborate with those there to help the numbers go up in both places.
He explained how, with a population of around 7 million, Hong Kong has developed into a small yet extremely busy hub for trade agreements around the world.
"Hong Kong is named the third-easiest place to do business," he said. This statistic came from The World Bank.
He cited that it's been ranked as having the world's third-busiest container port, seventh-largest stock market and sixth-largest foreign exchange market.
Tong said more exporting to Hong Kong would allow Alaska to benefit from these venues and create more jobs here.
In his talks, he also outlined the growing financial management services there for several large banks, including Wells Fargo. These services include offshore testing for renminbi currency.
He said another economic advantage of dealing with Hong Kong is new services continued to form there even during the recession. Among these were several law offices that could "mean more Chinese investments in the U.S."
Tong said his business in Alaska isn't concluded, as there are many options for economic agreements he hopes to explore further.
"This time around was a short visit but we identified some commodities. We'll be back to discuss them in greater detail," he said.
Tong said the World Trade Center Alaska, a commercial organization based in Anchorage, will host additional talks in December regarding working with Hong Kong.
Contact Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at email@example.com.