For Hong Kong and Macao, the CIIE is a window of opportunity

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The National Exhibition and Convention Center, the main venue of the 4th China International Import Expo (CIIE), in Shanghai (east China) on November 5, 2021. / Xinhua

The National Exhibition and Convention Center, the main venue of the 4th China International Import Expo (CIIE), in Shanghai (east China) on November 5, 2021. / Xinhua

Editor’s Note: Timothy Kerswell is a researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Shenzhen). He lived in Macau for seven years, working as an assistant professor at the University of Macau. The article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of CGTN.

For the special administrative regions of China, Hong Kong and Macao, the China International Import Expo (CIIE) demonstrates the future recovery opportunities of mainland China. There have often been discussions of pushing for economic diversification and restructuring towards greater integration with mainland China in both economies. Often there has been a lukewarm response to these suggestions due to the political courage required to endure the pain associated with economic restructuring. In the case of Hong Kong, potential political instability would often delay such plans.

The past two years have changed all that, as COVID-19 has been a wake-up call. I lived in Hong Kong and Macau during the pandemic. I often sat and worked in a cafe in one of Macau’s many huge casinos, and I will never forget feeling like one of the only visitors to buildings designed to accommodate thousands of people. It was a cavernous space and the staff outnumbered me. Having visited Hong Kong a lot since 2013, it was sad to see several fairly well-established businesses shutting down due to the instability of 2019 and then the pandemic as well. These difficult years have served as a timely reminder of the vulnerability of industries that depend on tourism and over-reliance on a single sector.

Hong Kong and Macao are now eager for an economic recovery. In this impatience, it would be tempting to simply rely on a political strategy centered on a return to the past, but that would be a serious mistake. The difference now is that the pain was endured involuntarily as a result of very unfortunate circumstances. As a result, the policy calculation should change. To do anything other than plan for diversification and further integration into the Chinese market would be folly for both Hong Kong and Macau.

Macau is fortunate to serve as a bridge between the Portuguese-speaking world and the booming Chinese market. Thanks to the cooperation within the framework of the Macao Forum, which results from an initiative of the central government, many companies from Portuguese-speaking countries such as Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique , Portugal and East Timor are developing links with the Chinese market. These synergies offer significant opportunities across the Portuguese-speaking world, such as through the overseas investment pilot program for qualified national sponsors, which, despite its awkward name, brings Chinese investment to many Portuguese-speaking countries via Macau. .

Participating in the CIIE since 2018, the Macao delegation continued to bring local food, drink and other agricultural products, as well as provide professional accounting and translation services, promoting the region’s role in the international cooperation. More than 40 companies in the city participated in the exhibition in 2020, with a booth covering an area of ​​660 square meters, which saw an increase of about 200 square meters compared to the first CIIE.

Visitors walk past Hong Kong snacks on display in the food and agriculture exhibition area of ​​the 4th China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, east China, November 6, 2021. / Xinhua

Visitors walk past Hong Kong snacks on display in the food and agriculture exhibition area of ​​the 4th China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, east China, November 6, 2021. / Xinhua

In the case of Hong Kong, the numbers alone show how companies have used the CIIE as part of their response to the challenges of the 2019 upheaval and the COVID-19 pandemic. Hong Kong has been part of the CIIE since its inception in 2018, when it had 160 participants from the region, but this year it has around 240 marking a sharp increase and showing the importance that Hong Kong companies attach to this event.

Hong Kong has traditionally been a financial hub. An example of how his companies can serve as a bridge between China and the world is to facilitate e-commerce on websites like Amazon and eBay for Chinese companies. As these companies may not be able to open overseas bank accounts, this allows many financial services companies in Hong Kong to step in and play this role.

It is certain that many Hong Kong companies will be thinking about how to make the most of the new Qianhai district in neighboring Shenzhen city, which offers opportunities in areas such as logistics and information technology, among others.

The diversity of companies participating in CIIE shows that Hong Kong is more than just a financial hub, with companies in food, logistics, infrastructure and construction, design, licensing, technology information and communication, innovative technologies and professional services.

China’s dual circulation development strategy has emphasized its domestic market as the engine of growth and development as it becomes the world’s largest consumer market. With China being the only major economy in the world to grow in 2020, it is clear that for Hong Kong and Macao, their engagement with the domestic market is the best bet for economic recovery.

For cynics, international gatherings are symbolic occasions, and often the real deals are done long before they start. This may also be the case for the CIIE.

But the big companies observed that even though they didn’t make huge deals at CIIE, they got a valuable opportunity to better understand consumer markets on the Chinese mainland.

For Hong Kong and Macao, the real message of the CIIE is what it represents: the vastness of the continental market, its openness, its potential synergy with Hong Kong and Macao, and its promise of common prosperity. As the rest of the world falters, China’s growth is a beacon of hope for the recovery of COVID-19, making CIIE an opportunity not to be missed.

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