On July 1, Hong Kong welcomed a new leader with ex-police officer John Lee taking over from Carrie Lam on the 25th anniversary of the handover of the city, a big date in the calendar with president Xi Jinping jetting in from Beijing.
Speaking at the ceremony Xi said Hong Kong must maintain its unique position and advantages, including consolidating its role as a financial, aviation and trading hub, adding that the city will make a “major contribution” to the historical process of “realising the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
Hong Kong must proactively complement the National 14th Five-Year Plan, the infrastructure development in the Greater Bay Area, and the Belt and Road Initiative, he added.
Hong Kong’s maritime community has a long list of items they’d like to see the new administration look at, and discussions with senior officials are underway about reviving the city’s shipping hub status.
Top of the list for everyone polled is an easing of the covid rules, something neatly described by Gautam Chellaram, the chairman of local dry bulk owner KC Maritime.
“Maritime is synonymous with the sea and therefore an open travel policy with no restrictions must be at the forefront of the chief executive’s government priorities,” Chelleram says, adding: “Maritime is truly a global business involving various international communities. Hong Kong business travellers must feel comfortable to travel in and out of the city freely and demonstrate to the rest of the world we are open for business.”
Bjorn Hojgaard, the head of Anglo-Eastern, agrees, saying maritime priorities are the same as the priorities for other industries in Hong Kong.
“Make the Special Administrative Region (SAR) attractive for work, travel and living, for locals and expats alike,” urges Hojgaard, one of the local shipping community’s most vocal critic of the government’s handling of covid.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot more besides covid that is on people’s wish-list.
Few people are better suited discussing government maritime priorities than Rosita Lau, the veteran Ince lawyer and chair of the Promotion and External Relations Committee on the Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board, an organisation created in 2016 as a sound board to work better between public and private interests.
The Hong Kong government must work hard to promote the city’s maritime industry both internally, and externally to the world, she urges.
Another priority, Lau says, ought to be to enlarge the pool of maritime talent including maritime legal talent so as to collaborate with the initiative of making Hong Kong an international maritime dispute resolution centre and legal services centre.
While the former Transport and Housing Bureau has been split up, with the establishment of a new policy bureau dedicated to transport matters – the Transport and Logistics Bureau – many would like the government to go a step further, with a dedicated maritime portfolio, but these calls have fallen on deaf ears for decades.
“If it is not ripe for an entity similar to Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority to be set up and manned by the government, then in the interim, adequate additional manpower should be provided to the Transport and Logistics Bureau so that the bureau has enough pairs of hands,” Lau suggests.
For the government in the beginning of its new term, it may indeed be useful to review how the various departments and bureaus are holistically working together to support the maritime industry ecosystem as a whole, agrees Angad Banga, chief operating officer at The Caravel Group.
For example, with the recent reorganisation of the government structure, the Transport and Logistics, Financial Services and Treasury, and Commerce and Economic Development Bureaus now all report to the Financial Secretary.
“This,” says Banga, “is a great step towards enhancing synergies and communication to have these departments working as systems together.”
Another potential opportunity, Banga suggests, includes how the Environment and Ecology Bureau could partner with any other relevant departments and industry to drive decarbonisation efforts.
This topic, decarbonisation, is one Vinod Sehgal, the CEO of SeaQuest Shipmanagement, reckons the government must take seriously when it comes to their plans for maritime.
“Decarbonisation, alternative power sources, ESG, carbon capture systems, AI and digitalisation are just some of the new buzzwords in the path to 2050 and beyond,” Seghal says.
The SeaQuest boss’s advice is for government to take proactive steps such as establishing technical advisory committees, setting aside funds for research, development and implementation of leading edge technologies while encouraging the sector towards compliance.
From the perspective of the SAR’s port operators, Horace Lo, group managing director at Modern Terminals Limited, tells it’s vital Hong Kong maintains and enhances existing competitive advantages including the unique status and role of Hong Kong under the cabotage rules of China. Lo says it is also important for Hong Kong to establish its port community system under the Smart Port initiative to facilitate accurate and timely information flow among users in the port and other stakeholders in the logistics ecosystem.
For the Greater Bay Area (GBA), while the ports in the area have been developing rather independently, Lo reckons there should be better coordination so as to develop the area into the biggest container hub port cluster in the world, and to improve its long-term competitiveness. “We have to efficiently coordinate terminal capacity in the GBA to achieve a proper balance between supply and demand in view of evolving market needs,” Lo says.
Concluding the wish-list from a commercial standpoint, a spokesperson for insurer the TT Club reminds the new administration the importance of maintaining the city’s flexible regulatory approach and low tax environment.