Parting with tradition Hong Kong’s new chief executive offered an edited version of her policy address to the Legislative Council this morning.
In common with many other small-and-medium-size enterprises, those in the maritime-related sectors will no doubt welcome the halving of corporate tax to 8.25% for the first HK$2m earned. But the maritime sector failed to get a mention in Ms Lam’s speech this morning. To discover any marine focused policies one has to revert to the 49,000-word policy address.
The 175 words devoted to maritime made reference to the Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board, which was set up in 2016, and its on-going work in formulating “a comprehensive strategy to bolster and promote the development of Hong Kong’s maritime industry and high value-added maritime services (including marine insurance, maritime legal and arbitration services, ship finance, ship management and ship registration), and encourage overseas maritime enterprises to set up presence in Hong Kong”.
One new and welcome initiative that had not been previously made public is the strengthening of the services of the Hong Kong Shipping Register by providing time-sensitive services to overseas shipowners through the Government’s Economic and Trade Offices overseas and in the Mainland, thereby allowing ships to set sail promptly after registration with the Register.
There are also plans to increase the number of double taxation agreements from the current 38 to 50 by 2020.
Another measure that will impact shipping in Hong Kong is the “plan” to mandate vessels in Hong Kong waters to use low sulphur fuel (presumably to 0.5% although it is not stated) starting from January 2019.
Sadly, despite rumours circulating during Ms Lam’s election campaign that she might contemplate the appointment of a shipping minister or at least break up the Transport & Housing Department, no such plan is included in the address.
Equally there is an absence of a plan to confer statutory body status on the Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board such as is accorded to the Aviation Authority, Insurance Authority etc. The fulfillment of these initiatives is vital in achieving a level playing field with other leading maritime hubs. It is up to Hong Kong’s maritime community to keep the pressure on the government to take action.