AmCham looks back on half-century
US grouping works on Hong Kong’s unique role in world’s top trade relationship.
18 March 2019
This year, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) celebrates its 50th anniversary in Hong Kong. Robert Grieves, the 2019 Chairman of AmCham Hong Kong, reflects on half a century of the chamber’s achievements, and looks ahead to the next 50 years.
How would you describe the chamber’s role?
For the past five decades, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong has championed the free flow of information, freedom of expression, the rule of law and a level playing field for international businesses operating in Greater China and throughout Asia. It has defined for itself a unique role as an honest broker, defending Hong Kong’s interests in Washington and Beijing, and advocating on behalf of American and international businesses and its membership throughout Asia.
What’s been the biggest change during that time?
The handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 represented a big change for our AmCham members. However, very few, if any, international businesses here left Hong Kong, nor did any of them, so far as I know, leave China if they were also doing business there. That’s because the international businesses that constitute our membership have been consistently committed to doing business in Greater China for the last 50 years. Since the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the American Chamber has fully supported Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” formulation as enshrined in Hong Kong’s mini constitution, the Basic Law. Since then our members have continued to do business in Hong Kong and they have continued to prosper, during a period of relative stability, even accounting for the Asian financial crisis that followed the handover.
The future is now for Hong Kong with respect to opportunities afforded by the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and for AmCham member firms that could assist in the buildout of the Greater Bay Area blueprint.
The Greater Bay Area was first outlined by China’s top authorities to create a new economic growth engine by pooling together the resources of Hong Kong, Macau and nine neighbouring cities in Guangdong province. Details are slowly being added to the general outline, and as meat is put on the bones the excitement is growing. The Greater Bay Area will contribute not only to China’s GDP, but also to global GDP.
Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou and Shenzhen will be the central cities in the Greater Bay Area, each with their own unique positioning. Hong Kong will be the international finance, navigation and trade centre, as well as a transport hub. The city will have the role of developing finance, trade, logistics and professional services throughout the Greater Bay Area. The Chamber looks forward to working with our member firms to seize opportunities as they arise and to assist Hong Kong to lead in this historic initiative.
These are uncertain times and the Greater Bay Area represents hope and promise for the people of Hong Kong – and for our members who live and work in Hong Kong.
Where do you see particular opportunities for American businesses to leverage Hong Kong?
We see opportunities for United States healthcare firms to collaborate with the Hong Kong government in applied research and technological development. In December 2018, Hong Kong University and Harvard University announced that they are setting up a laboratory in Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks in an ambitious joint effort to make detection of diseases such as cancer faster, easier and more precise. In January the first international research centre in Hong Kong to focus on neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia was announced. The centre will be established by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Harvard Medical School, the Stanford University School of Medicine, and University College London. STEM Education American educational institutions can play an important role in preparing Hong Kong students for the workplace of the future.
The chamber will engage with the Hong Kong government on the future of work, on issues of employment for its young people, and on how to care for an ageing population. Talent continues to stand out as a priority issue for Hong Kong as it seeks to enhance its competitiveness. Hong Kong should continue to reform its educational system in accordance with its needs and current occupational trends, and consider expanding the import of talent.
The Hong Kong government should also look into opportunities to extend the “Hong Kong model” – for example, staying ahead in global education rankings and aligning with international standards – in Greater Bay Area cities. In this regard, US institutions of higher learning, supported by AmCham, can play a role by forming strategic partnerships and opportunistically seizing opportunities. US education and business leaders are keen to work with the Hong Kong government and other community stakeholders to showcase and pioneer role models on the future of work.
How will AmCham Hong Kong celebrate its golden jubilee year?
Throughout this year we are holding events celebrating our 50th anniversary. We will have content posted on our website, in the AmChamHK magazine, in podcasts and on social media that include the reminiscences of past chairmen and an exhibition on the history of the American Chamber that will debut later this month in the Rotunda of Exchange Square.
In March, we held a two-day conference to which we invited the 27 American chambers of commerce throughout Asia, as well as noted speakers and government officials. We have also remodelled the AmCham offices in the Bank of America Tower, and now feature classic photos of Hong Kong and AmCham people from our past 50 years in the Special Administrative Region.
The final word?
The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, one of the most dynamic and influential international chambers in Hong Kong, has been advocating on behalf of our members and Hong Kong in the sphere of business issues for the past 50 years, and we will continue to do so in the next 50 years. The relationship and interactions between China’s economy and America’s are the most important business relationship in the world, and we at the American Chamber have both the collected wisdom and new digital economy wisdom, thanks to our members, to contribute to that dialogue for decades to come.
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