In part one of a two-part interview Legislative Council member for the Transport constituency Frankie Yick speaks of his hopes for Hong Kong as a premier maritime hub after chief executive-elect Carrie Lam takes to the helm of the Hong Kong SAR.
There can be no doubt that Hong Kong’s status as the region’s premier maritime centre is, at the present moment, historical rather than actual. And few would argue against Singapore’s claim as the number one maritime centre in the region today.
More sobering, from a global perspective, a recent survey conducted by Consulting firm Menon, under the auspices of Norwegian Classification Society, DNV GL, concluded, predictably, that Singapore was the world’s leading maritime capital. More surprising perhaps, to any self-respecting Hong Kong-based maritime practitioner was Hong Kong’s ranking at 7. Ranked ahead of Hong Kong are Hamburg, Oslo, Shanghai, London and Rotterdam in that order. The compilers of the survey concede that a level of subjective measures were included in the survey but insist that even in their absence the outturn would have been broadly the same.
Hope on the horizon
Since the establishment of the Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board in April 2016, there is a sense of mild optimism that the Government is beginning to address issues that if resolved may assist Hong Kong in recovering lost ground against its rivals. In this respect Legislative Council member for the Transport constituency, Frankie Yip has some welcome news.
First and foremost Mr Yick reveals that during discussions with chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor she has stated that she will offer support to the maritime sector during her tenure. More substantively she has indicated that she will oversee the separation of the transport and housing departments of the current Transport and Housing Bureaus, an arrangement long on the wish list of the maritime sector.
On other measures, the horizon is not so clear. Mr Yick claims that he and others have been urging the Government to make the HKMPB a statutory body, able to hand down legislation on behalf of the Government and for the benefit of the industry.
Thus far the government has resisted this on the basis that introducing the relevant legislation in order to bring about the enhanced status will take a long time. Another stumbling block is the requirement in Hong Kong that a statutory body must be self-financing. Unlike Hong Kong’s Airport Authority, which has access to vast swathes of land from which it can gain revenue the HKMPB would seem to be without such opportunities to finance its operations as a statutory body.
While Mr Yick concedes that the legislative measures required would indeed take time, self-financing is less problematic.
“This is very easy to resolve,” he insists. “At the Kwai Tsing Port, we have 100 hectares of land all designated as back-up land for port operations. Even if we allocated just five hectares of that land for a warehouse the rental income could finance the Authority. It’s just a matter of whether they [the Government] want to do it.”
For the time being Mr Yick and the likes of the Hong Kong Shipping Association are prepared to accept the status quo. “We agreed with the Government that they could go ahead with the HKMPB first. In my view it is just a bigger consultative committee but the Government insists it is a more powerful body than its predecessors the Maritime Industry Council and the Port Development Board.
“This could be true. They have gained some additional funding to hire people to take on marine business in a very focused way,” he concedes.
Promoting the maritime hub
At the heart of the HKMPB are the three committees covering maritime and port development, promotional and external relations, and manpower development. On the topic of promotion Mr Yick believes that a more focussed and methodical approach is needed.
“One of the things the HKMPB is trying very hard to do is to go out and promote Hong Kong. And it has been doing that,” he says.
The HKMPB organised Hong Kong Maritime Industry Week in November 2016, due to be repeated under the title Hong Kong Maritime Week this November, was well received by locals and overseas visitors alike. And over the last 12 months members of the Board have visited Hamburg, London, Athens and Japan in order to promote Hong Kong as a place to do maritime business.
“However, it is rather frustrating that the HKMPB just keeps going out and saying how good Hong Kong is.
“If Hong Kong is really so good then we would see more people and businesses coming in. In fact we see the reverse with companies leaving Hong Kong either to Singapore or Shanghai. Why?
“I have suggested to the Board that we appoint a consultant to carry out a study. Talk to the newcomers in Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong and ask them why they have chosen to set up in those jurisdictions,” he adds.
“From there we should analyse the various attributes of the different locations. Discover and what advantages we have and what we lack. Then we can decide which of the attributes we need to acquire that we can actually bring about,” he concludes.
Mr Yick awards high marks to the work of the Manpower Development Committee for its continuing oversight of the Maritime and Aviation Training Fund and the ongoing communication with academic institutions to provide more focus on maritime related courses. The HKMPB now lists no less than 94 courses or programmes offered by the territory’s academic institutions and a further 30 courses or programmes organised by maritime-related organisations or professional bodies.
In the second part of this interview, to be published tomorrow, Mr Yick will discuss the future of Hong Kong’s port, recent Marine Department developments, and substantive actions to be taken to enable Hong Kong to reclaim the hub initiative.