Stephen Wong is HKTDC Regional Director for Europe, which includes the emerging markets of Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkey. The HKTDC regional office organises about 40 delegations each year to various trade shows of Europe. It also matches Hong Kong companies with European brand owners looking to enter the Chinese mainland market. In Six Questions, Mr Wong outlines some of the potential areas for cooperation between European and Hong Kong companies.
What’s the general business situation now in Europe?
At the moment, Europe’s economic performance varies quite a bit. In some parts of Europe, such as Germany, we are seeing growth of about half a per cent. But in southern Europe, unemployment remains high in Spain, Portugal and other countries.
Has the economic downturn spurred some EU countries to look to Asia?
In certain parts of Spain, for example, where youth unemployment exceeds 50 per cent, they are actually being more active in pushing their exports. For the first time in more than 40 years, we are seeing a trade surplus in Spain. Not that they are buying less, but they are exporting more, so that’s an opportunity for Hong Kong.
How are some European companies using Hong Kong to tap the Asian market?
For the November HKTDC Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Fair, where Spain will be Partner Country, we will have a delegation of nearly 100 Spanish wineries, traders and distributors joining the fair. We are also seeing growing interest from other south European countries, including Portugal, looking to partner with us to sell various lifestyle products. Not only wine but gift items, food, even houseware, and we are talking to them. There is a high chance that they will attend our Hong Kong trade shows.
How can Hong Kong companies take advantage of this?
Roughly 50,000 European buyers come to Hong Kong trade shows. So if Hong Kong companies wish to meet European buyers, they should consider joining some of the local trade shows. For some of the shows that we have in Hong Kong, they can join the Small-Order Zone, because that’s something that European countries are very concerned about – small orders. They are not very confident about placing bulk orders at the moment, so it’s very likely they might split orders into two or three shipments.
What about business missions to Europe?
If they are also interested in teaming up with European companies, they can consider joining some of the shows or delegations that we are organising. For example, we have a lifestyle expo in Turkey coming up in November. We also have a delegation going to three European countries: the United Kingdom, France and Italy, exploring cooperation with brand owners and also partnering opportunities in the green technology area. There’s a possibility that they might open certain operations in this part of the world, and the two sides can work together and go to China.
What are some trends to look out for?
In the coming year, we’ll be watching developments in Russia. For example, last year Russia joined the World Trade Organization, so there are certain market-opening measures that we are looking at for various industries, including merchandise trade and the services area. They’re opening, for example, their IT and even communications sectors, so that’s one area that Hong Kong might be able to explore.
There’s also Kazakhstan, which we have taken a delegation to recently. Kazakhstan is bigger than the entire Western Europe, so this is another area we are hoping to explore. And, of course, we are monitoring developments in Europe very closely. German elections will take place next week, so we’re looking at how that will evolve and how it’s going to affect Germany, and its efforts to help other troubled European countries.