Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday pushed ASEAN’s economic leaders to consider bringing Hong Kong under the wing of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, which now encompasses the 10-nation bloc plus China, India, South Korea and Japan.
ASEAN was Hong Kong’s second-largest trading partner after China in 2011, making China’s so-called Special Administrative Region a candidate for accession. While some officials expressed approval for the plan, insiders said any attempt to include Hong Kong would be blocked by ASEAN “rivals”.
During the opening of the 44th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting, Hun Sen called on member states to assess the impact and challenge of inducting Hong Kong.
Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Irawan Wirijawan supported the idea but acknowledged that the process would take time and politics would come into play.
“I think it’s a good idea and I think Indonesia is one of the ASEAN member states [hoping] to see the marriage of Hong Kong like the ASEAN-China FTA … We have to check with our colleagues from the political pillar,” he told the Post yesterday.
Re-exported product account for about 90 per cent of Hong Kong’s total exports, 72 per cent of which are from mainland China. About 13 per cent of trade between mainland China and ASEAN is routed through Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s accession into the agreement would be a positive move, said Yum Sui Sang, chairman of the China Hong Kong and Macau Expatriate and Business Association of Cambodia. But competition between Hong Kong and certain ASEAN states would prevent the entry, he said, declining to name the countries that might bar Hong Kong.
“There are some countries that don’t want Hong Kong to enter. They look at Hong Kong as a rival and will try to keep it out,” he said by phone. Yum Sui Sang is also the CEO of Cambodia’s Union Commercial Bank.
Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia are among Hong Kong’s top 20 trading partners.
Bilateral trade between Cambodia and Hong Kong rose by more than 22 per cent last year, reaching $741 million, according to official data from the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.
Cambodia’s total exports to Hong Kong surged by almost 90 per cent to $42 million in 2011, up from $22 million in 2010.
The Kingdom’s imports from Hong Kong increased by 20 per cent to $698 million. Garment and footwear accounted for nearly 80 per cent of Cambodia’s exports to Hong Kong, although rice exports jumped by more than 130 per cent last year.
Hong Kong’s main exports to Cambodia included telecommunications equipment, textiles, leather, manufactured tobacco, jewelry and electric machinery.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Kunmakara at [email protected]