Miami's role as Hong Kong gateway requires an air link to really take off
By Zachary S. Fagenson
Miami's opportunity to serve as a gateway to Latin America for Hong Kong seems to rest on whether a passenger flight between the two cities can be established.
Hong Kong Commissioner for Economic and Trade Affairs in the US Donald Tong was in Miami last week to pitch the neon metropolis as a place where companies from around the world can do business and establish a base of operations to delve into mainland China.
The Hong Kong government maintains business development offices, which Mr. Tong oversees, in New York City, San Francisco and Washington, DC.
At the moment it contracts with business development firms in Latin America, much in the manner of Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development agency.
Mr. Tong, however, said he and his counterparts across the Pacific recognize the opportunities in Latin America and are working on how to best capitalize on them.
"We fly our colleagues from Hong Kong to Latin America, but we need to see how we [can] make better use of our resources," he said. "It's equally impossible for us to take business delegations to Latin America."
Hong Kong's main airline, Cathay Pacific, runs cargo flights four times a week to Miami International Airport.
If a passenger flight could be established, he said, it could make Miami attractive for the Chinese to set up business operations for Latin America.
It's "too early to draw a conclusion," Mr. Tong said. "At the end of the day it depends on the airline as well. Using Miami as a gateway like this would boost future demand."
With the expansion of the Panama Canal slated to be done in 2014, super freighters coming out of Hong Kong can begin looking at running cargo straight to Latin America's east coast ports to cut shipping costs to the region, possibly skipping Miami and making direct investment even more important.
Meanwhile, the two cities with bird's-eye views of booming economies have a lot in common, including hopes of attracting foreign direct investment from similar industries.
There's "growing demand for professional services," Mr. Tong told an audience of about 40 at a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Four Seasons on Brickell Avenue. "Hong Kong has a free trade agreement with mainland [China]" while US professional service firms also receive preferential treatment in China.
Services account for 92% of Hong Kong's gross domestic product, he noted. Its main industries are financial services, trade and logistics, business and professional services, and tourism.
The industries it's hoping to develop, which like its mainstays are eerily similar to Miami's, include medical and biomedical, cultural and creative, environment and green technology, and education services.
Hong Kong became a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China in 1997. It maintains its own currency, which unlike China's Yuan is pegged to the US dollar. Hong Kong maintains its own equity market and collects and spends its own taxes.
"Hong Kong people run Hong Kong," Mr. Tong said. Beijing controls foreign policy and national defense.
Already 1,300 US companies work in Hong Kong, and Florida's 2010 exports to the semi-sovereign city came in at $730 million, 25% higher than 2009.
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