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Economic and Trade Information on Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong’s economy expanded by 2.4% in real terms in 2015, compared with the growth of 2.6% for 2014. For 2016, the economy is forecast to grow by 1-2%.
  • Amid the visibly decline in tourist arrivals, the value of retail sales, in nominal terms, dropped by 6.5% year-on-year for January 2015, after the decline of 3.7% for 2015.
  • The labour market conditions remain tight. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3.3% for the three-month period ending February 2016, close to the lowest level in 18 years.
  • Consumer prices increased 2.9% year-on-year in January-February 2016, after increasing by 3% for 2015. Inflationary pressure should be contained in the near term.
  • Hong Kong’s merchandise exports dropped 6.6% year-on-year in January-February 2016, after falling by 1.8% in 2015. For 2016 as a whole, exports are projected to level off at the 2015 level amid the sluggish global demand.
Table: Major Economic Indicators of Hong Kong


Table: Merchandise Trade Performance


Table: Service Trade Performance of Hong Kong

Current Economic Situation

  • The world’s freest economy
  • The world’s most services-oriented economy, with services sectors accounting for more than 90% of GDP
  • The world’s second largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI), after Chinese mainland
  • The world’s second largest source of FDI, after the US

1. Latest Developments

Hong Kong’s economy expanded by 2.4% in real terms in 2015, slowed from 2.6% for 2014, with remarkable resilience in the domestic sector. In 2015, growth in private consumption expenditure accelerated to 4.8% in real terms, from 3.3% in 2014, while investment expenditure dropped 2.2% in real terms, compared with -0.1% in 2014. The external sector, however, deteriorated amid an austere external environment. In 2015, exports of goods and services fell 1.7% and 0.6%, respectively in real terms, against the growth of 0.8% and 1.1%, respectively in 2014. Looking ahead, the external environment remains challenging and the major impetus to overall economic growth will continue to count on domestic demand. In the latest round of review in February, the government forecast Hong Kong’s economic growth at 1-2% for 2016.

Dragged by the visible decline in tourist arrivals, the value of retail sales, in nominal terms, dropped 6.5% year-on-year for January 2015, after the decline of 3.7% for 2015. Yet the labour market conditions remain tight. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stood at 3.3% for the three-month period ending February 2016, close to the lowest level in 18 years. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s consumer prices rose 2.9% year-on-year in January-February 2016, after a 3% increase in 2015. Inflationary pressure should remain limited in the near term, given the muted global inflation and soft international commodity prices, while local cost increases will likely be restrained by the subpar economic conditions and the retreat in rental cost pressures. In the latest round of review in February, the government forecast consumer prices to increase by 2.3% for 2016.

In 2015, a total of 59.3 million visitors, equivalent to 8.1 times of the size of Hong Kong’s local population, were recorded, with those from the Chinese mainland accounting for 77% of the total. In January 2016, visitor arrivals to Hong Kong dropped 6.8% year-on-year, after falling by 2.5% in 2015; those from the Chinese mainland declined by 10% year-on-year, after falling by 3% in 2015. In the first half of 2015, total tourism expenditure associated to inbound tourism amounted to HK$166 billion, dropped 1.6% year-on-year from the previous year.

The four pillar economic sectors of Hong Kong are: trading and logistics (23.4% of GDP in terms of value-added in 2014), tourism (5.1%), financial services (16.6%), and professional services and other producer services (12.4%). On the other hand, the six industries which Hong Kong has clear advantages for further development are cultural and creative, medical services, education services, innovation and technology, testing and certification services and environmental industries, which together accounted for 9.2% of GDP in terms of value-added in 2014.

2. Budget and Government Initiatives

On 13 January 2016, the Chief Executive, C Y Leung, announced a broad range of initiatives in the 2016 Policy Address to develop the economy, enhance education and improve health care. Innovation and technology would receive a big boost, with nearly $5 billion in funding for a variety of initiatives. More importantly, Leung placed strong emphasis on Hong Kong’s roles in Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the National 13th Five-Year Plan. He affirmed that Hong Kong would serve as a platform for capital formation and finance; trade and logistics; professional and infrastructure services under BRI. The government would set up a steering committee, chaired by himself, for formulating strategies and policies for Hong Kong’s participation in BRI; plus a Belt and Road Office responsible for taking forward related studies, liaison with the central ministries, provincial and municipal authorities, and other co-ordination work. Also, Hong Kong would continue to pursue free-trade agreements, investment promotion and protection agreements, avoidance of double-taxation agreements and air services agreements with major trading partners along the Belt and Road. On education, Leung announced a free, quality kindergarten-education policy from the 2017/18 school year. In health care, the government would work with the Hospital Authority to implement a $200 billion, 10-year development plan.

In the 2016-17 Budget announced on 24 February 2016, Financial Secretary John Tsang unveiled a number of relief measures to help business and residents weather a weakening economy and to stimulate consumption, which include reducing salaries and profits tax for 2015-16 by 75% subject to a ceiling of $20,000 and enhancing the “SME Financing Guarantee Scheme”. Responding to the new economic order (i.e. emerging markets playing more important roles; breakthroughs in IT development), he proposed various funding schemes and initiatives to encourage the applications of R&D results and fintech, nurture start-ups and assist industries in finding new markets such as setting up the Innovation and Technology Venture Fund and strengthening promotion effort relating to the Belt and Road Initiative. Besides, land resources, education, social welfare and healthcare services are also the focus of the 2016-2017 Budget.

The Mainland-Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) was firstly concluded in 2003. Thereafter, the two sides broadened and enriched the content of CEPA and signed ten Supplements between 2004 and 2013, expanding market liberalisation and further facilitating trade and investment for the economic cooperation of the two places. At present, all products of Hong Kong origin, except for a few prohibited articles, can be imported into the mainland tariff free under CEPA. Hong Kong service suppliers enjoy preferential treatment in entering into the mainland market in various service areas. There are also agreements or arrangements on mutual recognition of professional qualification.

In December 2014, the Agreement between the Mainland and Hong Kong on Achieving Basic Liberalisation of Trade in Services in Guangdong (the Guangdong Agreement) was signed under the framework of CEPA, enabling early realisation of basic liberalisation of trade in services with Hong Kong in Guangdong. On the basis of the Guangdong Agreement, the Agreement signed in November 2015 further enhances the liberalisation in both breadth and depth, including extending the implementation of the majority of Guangdong pilot liberalisation measures to the whole Mainland; reducing the restrictive measures in the negative list; and adding 28 liberalisation measures in the positive lists for cross-border services as well as cultural and telecommunications services. Details and new developments about CEPA, including our analysis of its impacts on Hong Kong, can be found here.

3. Investment Flows

Hong Kong is a highly attractive market for foreign direct investment (FDI). According to the UNCTAD World Investment Report 2015, global FDI inflows to Hong Kong amounted to US$103 billion in 2014, behind only the Chinese mainland (US$129 billion) but ahead of the US (US$92 billion) and the UK (US$72 billion). In terms of outflows, Hong Kong ranked second with US$143 billion, after only the US (US$337 billion) but ahead of the Chinese mainland (US$116 billion), Japan (US$114 billion) and Germany (US$112 billion).

According to a government survey, Hong Kong’s total stock of inward direct investment was estimated at US$1,488 billion at the end of 2014. One distinct feature of such direct investment was the indirect channelling of capitals from non-operating companies in tax haven economies. Against this background, British Virgin Islands, Netherlands, Bermuda and Cayman Islands accounted for 35.5%, 6.4%, 5.3% and 3.4%, respectively, of the total stock of inward direct investment in 2014. Excluding tax haven economies, the Chinese mainland was the most important source of direct investment in Hong Kong (accounting for 30.1% of the total). Other major sources include the US (3.3%) and Singapore (2.7%). The majority of the stock of investment was related to service industries including investment and holding, real estate, professional and business services; import/export, wholesale and retail trades; and banking.

For more information and assistance in establishing an operation in Hong Kong, contact InvestHK.

4. Trade Relations and Tax Treaties

Hong Kong is a founding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has been participating actively in its activities. Also, Hong Kong is a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC). Hong Kong belongs, in its own right, to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Customs Organization (WCO). It is an associate member of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and relates, in varying degrees, to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Since April 1994, Hong Kong has been an observer of the Trade Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In addition to CEPA, Hong Kong has signed free trade agreements with New Zealand, the member states of the European Free Trade Association (comprising Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) and Chile respectively; and is negotiating a free trade agreement with ASEAN countries. Besides, Hong Kong has signed Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (IPPAs) with 18 economies, and concluded the negotiations with Bahrain and Myanmar; IPPAs with Russia and the UAE are under negotiation. On the other hand, Hong Kong has entered into Comprehensive Double Taxation Agreements / Arrangement (DTAs) with some 30 jurisdictions while those with another 12 countries/territories are still under negotiation.

Latest Trade Performance

  • The world’s 8th largest trading economy
  • The world’s 15th largest exporter of commercial services

Hong Kong’s merchandise exports fell 6.6% year-on-year in January-February 2016, after dropping by 1.8% in 2015. In January-February 2016, Hong Kong’s major export markets were the Chinese mainland, the EU, the US, ASEAN and Japan, which respectively made up 52%, 10%, 9%, 8% and 4% of Hong Kong’s total exports; changes in exports to the above markets were -7.3%, -6.1%, -11.2%, -6% and -6.2%, respectively. Imports fell 9.5% year-on-year in January-February 2016, after dropping by 4.1% in 2015. A visible trade deficit of US$6.5 billion, equivalent to 9.1% of the value of imports of goods, was recorded in the first two months of 2016. Hong Kong’s trade performance is in part affected by outward processing activities in Guangdong where the majority of Hong Kong companies have extended their manufacturing base. In 2015, 28.5% of Hong Kong’s total exports to the Chinese mainland were related to outward processing activities; the figures were 13.9% for domestic exports and 28.7% for re-exports.

For 2016 as a whole, Hong Kong’s merchandise exports are projected to level off at the 2015 level amid the sluggish global demand. Rampant deflationary pressure worldwide, volatilities in the global financial landscape, the development of regional trade agreements, as well as lingering geopolitical threats and increased terrorist concerns are potential threats to the export outlook. On the supply side, Hong Kong exporters have to live with a challenging production environment on the Chinese mainland, especially in the Pearl River Delta, which include the rising input costs.

Economic Relations with the Chinese Mainland

  • The most important entrepôt for the Chinese mainland
  • The largest foreign investment source of the Chinese mainland
  • The key offshore capital-raising centre for Chinese enterprises
  • The Chinese mainland as Hong Kong’s largest source of external investment

Hong Kong is so far the most important entrepôt of the Chinese mainland. According to the HKSAR government statistics, in 2015, 61% of re-exports were of China origin and 54% were destined for the Chinese mainland. According to China’s Customs statistics, Hong Kong is the second largest trading partner of the Chinese mainland after the US, accounting for 8.7% of its total trade in 2015.

Hong Kong is the largest source of overseas direct investment in the Chinese mainland. By the end of 2015, among all the overseas-funded projects approved in the Chinese Mainland, 44.7% were tied to Hong Kong interests. Cumulative utilized capital inflow from Hong Kong amounted to US$832.3 billion, accounting for 50.8% of the national total.

The Chinese mainland, on the other hand, is a leading investor in Hong Kong. According to the HKSAR Census and Statistics Department, the stock of Hong Kong’s inward investment from the Chinese mainland amounted to US$448 billion at market value or 30.1% of the total at the end of 2014.

As of January 2016, there were 11 licensed banks and six representative offices, incorporated in the Chinese mainland, operating in Hong Kong. Big lenders including the Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Agricultural Bank of China and China Construction Bank have opened their branch operations in Hong Kong. Mainland commercial banks including Bank of Beijing, Bank of Dongguan, Bank of Bohai, China Guangfa Bank and Ping An Bank have representative offices in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is also a key offshore capital-raising centre for Chinese enterprises. As of December 2015, 951 mainland companies were listed in Hong Kong, comprising H-share, red-chip and private companies with total market capitalization of US$1.97 trillion, or 62.1% of the market total. Since 1993, mainland companies have raised more than US$500 billion via stock offerings in Hong Kong.

In November 2014, Shanghai – Hong Kong Stock Connect was launched to establish mutual stock market access between Hong Kong and Chinese mainland. The development is a significant breakthrough in the opening of China’s capital markets as well as a landmark in the internationalisation of Renminbi, which has also illustrated Hong Kong’s strategic position in China’s economic and financial reforms.

Hong Kong as a Regional Centre

  • A popular venue for hosting regional headquarters or representative offices
  • A leading telecommunications hub for the Asia-Pacific region
  • A premier offshore RMB centre
  • The world’s busiest airport for international cargoes
  • One of the world’s busiest container ports
  • The second largest private equity centre in Asia
  • The fourth largest stock market in Asia, the eighth largest in the world
  • The third largest foreign exchange market in Asia, the fifth in the world

Hong Kong is a popular venue for hosting regional headquarters or representative offices for multinational companies to manage their businesses in the Asia Pacific, particularly the Chinese mainland. Based on a government survey, as of June 2015, there were 3,798 regional headquarters (RHQs) and regional offices (ROs) in Hong Kong representing their parent companies located outside Hong Kong, increased 4.4% from five years ago. Of these companies, over 70% were responsible for business in the Chinese mainland, confirming Hong Kong’s role as a conduit for doing business with the mainland. These companies came from diverse countries and sectors. The US had the largest number of RHQs/ROs in Hong Kong (21%), followed by Japan (18%), the UK (9%) and the mainland (8%). Most of the RHQs/ROs in Hong Kong were in I/E trade, wholesale and retail (51%). Others are in professional, business and education services (18%), finance and banking (12%), and transportation, storage and courier services (8%).

Hong Kong is an important banking and financial centre in the Asia Pacific. As at end-2015, there were 199 authorised institutions and 64 representative offices in Hong Kong. Total loans provided by the authorised institutions to finance international trade and other loans for use outside Hong Kong totalled US$58.2 billion and US$292.4 billion respectively. According to the Bank for International Settlements, Hong Kong is the third largest foreign exchange market in Asia and the fifth largest in the world, with the net daily turnover of forex transactions reaching US$275 billion in 2013.

Since the introduction of the Pilot RMB Trade Settlement Scheme by the Central Government in July 2009, Hong Kong has succeeded in expanding its RMB business by offering a number of RMB-denominated financial products and services, including trade finance, stocks, bonds and funds. Since the debut of the scheme, the related cross-border remittances totalled over RMB15 trillion and RMB customer deposits in Hong Kong had surged to RMB1 trillion as at end-2014. As at the end of October 2015, outstanding RMB bonds in Hong Kong (Dim Sum Bonds) reached RMB367 billion.

As at the end of December 2015, Hong Kong’s stock market ranked the fourth largest in Asia and the eighth largest in the world in terms of market capitalisation. There were 1,866 companies listed on HKEx, including 222 companies on the Growth Enterprise Market and the total market capitalisation of Hong Kong’s stock market reached US$3.16 trillion. Hong Kong is also the second largest private equity centre in Asia, managing about 19% of the total capital pool in the region as at end-2014.

Hong Kong is a leading telecommunications hub for the Asia-Pacific region. Residential fixed line and household broadband penetration rates have exceeded 96% and 80% respectively. Mobile subscribers in Hong Kong have exceeded 16.5 million, of which over 85% were 2.5G and 3G/4G mobile subscribers, more than doubled the total population in Hong Kong. There are now close to 40,000 public Wi-Fi access points.

Hong Kong is a favourite place in the world to do business and host major conferences. Over 300 international conventions and exhibitions are held in Hong Kong each year. To name a few, in December 2005, Hong Kong hosted the sixth session of the WTO ministerial conference where a Hong Kong declaration was concluded. In December 2008, Hong Kong played host to the first Clinton Global Initiative international meeting outside the US.

Infrastructure Developments

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB) consists of three parts, including the main bridge, boundary crossing facilities of Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macao, and link roads of the three places. The HZMB is of special strategic value in further enhancing the economic development of Hong Kong, Macao and the Western Pearl River Delta region (Western PRD). It will significantly reduce the cost and time for travellers and for the flow of goods between Hong Kong and the Western PRD, accelerating the economic integration of the PRD and its neighbouring provinces, and increasing its competitiveness. Construction of the project has started in December 2009 for completion in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) will be 26-km long, running from the terminus in West Kowloon to Shenzhen, Dongguan and Guangzhou with significantly reduced journey time. More importantly, it will become part of the 16,000 km national high-speed rail network now being developed in full steam, fostering closer economic ties between Hong Kong and the mainland. Upon completion of the railway, the travelling time from Hong Kong to Beijing and Shanghai will be shortened to about 10 and 8 hours respectively. Construction of the project has commenced for completion in 2018.

Besides the cross-boundary endeavours, the government has undertaken other large-scale infrastructure projects to improve the local transportation system, promote long-term development for arts and culture, and provide quality living space to citizens. As to the extension of the mass transit railway system, the West Island Line has been opened; the Kwun Tong Line Extension and South Island Line (East) are expected to complete in 2016 while the Shatin to Central Link are expected to complete in 2021. The government has also announced the Railway Development Strategy 2014, providing a framework for planning the further expansion of Hong Kong’s railway network up to 2031 to cover areas inhabited by about 75% of the total population and about 85% of job opportunities. Besides, a new cruise terminal has been developed at the former Kai Tak Runway, with two alongside berths, well equipped with supporting facilities to accommodate the concurrent berthing of two mega cruise vessels (with gross tonnage of up to 220,000).

As the busiest cargo gateway and one of the 10 passenger airports in the world, the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) is expected to reach its full capacity in the next few years. The Executive Council has approved the expansion HKIA into a three-runway system. The Airport Authority is moving ahead with planning work with the aim of starting construction in 2016 for completion in 2023.

Turning to the port, the government has released findings of the Study on the Strategic Development Plan for Hong Kong Port 2030 and the Preliminary Feasibility Study for Container Terminal 10 at Southwest Tsing Yi. The findings reveal that container throughput in Hong Kong will continue to see growth in the coming years. In order to cope with a projected future increase in throughput up to 2030, it is necessary to enhance the handling capacity of the existing container terminals and related infrastructural facilities, which include upgrading Stonecutters Island Public Cargo Working Area to a modern container handling facility for ocean-going or river trade vessels, enabling the River Trade Terminal to become a terminal for both ocean-going and river trade vessels, providing additional barge berths at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals to relieve congestion caused by the increase of river cargo throughput, and making better use of land and other facilities around the terminals to enhance operational efficiency and accommodate future growth in transhipment.


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