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Hong Kong eyes free trade deal with the UAE

John Lee, the chief executive of Hong Kong, addresses the UAE-Hong Kong business forum in Dubai SCMP
John Lee, the chief executive of Hong Kong, addresses the UAE-Hong Kong business forum in Dubai

Hong Kong is planning a free trade agreement with the UAE, but a senior government official from the Asian city conceded there is currently “no time frame” for the completion of talks.

Algernon Yau, secretary for commerce and economic development at the government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, told AGBI they planned to negotiate deals with all countries in the Middle East.

“That’s our intention, to have an FTA with everybody,” he said. “Every country will have their own priority on everything, but I do believe and I’m confident that it won’t be too long when we will be able to engage with the agreement that we intend to reach.”

Yau was part of a 30-strong delegation from Hong Kong to visit the Middle East this week, headed by chief executive John Lee, which comprised senior executives from Hong Kong’s financial institutions, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the city’s financial regulator, as well as major players in technology and innovation, sustainability, and smart city solutions.

“This is only the first step. It’s the beginning of the story and we will be coming back again after this trip so that we can explore more,” Yau said.

Hong Kong and the UAE signed an Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement in 2019 to strengthen confidence of investors, expand investment flows and improve economic and trade ties between the two.

A similar agreement is currently in the process of being concluded with Saudi Arabia.

The value of foreign trade between the UAE and Hong Kong amounted to AED32 billion ($8.7 billion) during the first nine months of 2022, achieving a growth of 36 percent compared to the same period in 2021, while Hong Kong was among the top 10 trading partners for the UAE during 2021, with a contribution of more than 2 percent of the country’s total non-oil trade. 

As Hong Kong’s largest trading partner in the Middle East, Lee said he was looking forward to taking the relationship “to a higher level” following the latest visit.

“It is clear we both approach business in the same way: backing innovation, investing in technology and looking for sustainable solutions,” he said.

During the visit to the UAE, three memorandums of understanding were signed between Hong Kong Trade Development Council and Dubai Chamber; Ho & Partners Architects, Negawatt, Masdar City, and The Catalyst; and Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation and Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park.

Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi, UAE minister of state for foreign trade said strengthening investment and trade partnerships with Hong Kong supports the strategic cooperation between the UAE and China.

He added that it contributes to “opening new business fields, stimulating communication between the Emirati-Chinese business communities, especially in light of new economic opportunities”.

Over 6,000 Chinese companies operate in the UAE, with China’s four largest state-owned banks establishing branches in Dubai. 

In December China signed investment deals worth an estimated $50 billion with Gulf nations during a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia by President Xi Jinping.

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