It is a pity that the seminar arranged on May 10 by the Tamil Chamber of Commerce (TCC), focusing on the ever-broadening vistas for expanding business with China and international markets by making Hong Kong the springboard, went unnoticed in the media and was thus denied the wide recognition it deserved.

It was truly an eye-opener for those who attended it and listened to the very lucid expositions by the Regional Director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) for South East Asia and India, Ms Loretta Wan, and the Council's India Consultant, Mr Rajesh Bhagat.

The TCC has done a first-of-its-kind public service by creating awareness of the tremendous advantages for economic players in India in using Hong Kong as a leveraging platform for fast-track promotion of trade, commerce and industry with China and the rest of the world.

Irresistibly tempting

What is surprising is that even though Hong Kong was handed back by Britain to China in 1997, and became its Special Administrative Region (SAR), it was only in October 2010 — after a lapse of 14 years — that the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Mr Donald Tsang, paid a visit to India. Hong Kong has largely remained a dot on the world map for economic decision-makers in India in both the dovecotes of government and corporate board-rooms.

There has, of course, been some $9 billion worth of bilateral exports and imports between India and Hong Kong, with more than half of it both ways made up of pearls, precious and semi-precious stones, and with leather and cotton goods, electric machinery, optical photographics and plastics coming far behind. India's share in Hong Kong's total trade profile is a minuscule 2.3 per cent. Only nine Indian nationalised banks are operating in the island.

Whereas with 1,500 Indian companies based in Hong Kong in services, investment finance, banking, industries, transportation, and information technology, and a flourishing Indian community of 45,000 with trade and cultural links of 150 years with Hong Kong, it could have been converted into a flywheel of India's economy, opening up markets of immense potential in South and South-East Asia.

Just to mention some irresistibly tempting facts that Ms Wan placed before the TCC seminar: It is the gateway located within five hours of more than half the world's population, with a low and simple tax regime, and no tax on off-shore income, capital gains, dividends, estate or sales. It is a trade and financial hub, familiar with the latest international best practices. Indian companies can make full use of the concessions offered for raising IPOs, private equity and venture capital.

Virgin territory

Because of its Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with China, all goods of Hong Kong origin have tariff-free preferential access to China. This facility is reinforced by the renminbi having been recognised as the official currency for trade and commerce.

Indian companies can now buy from third-party Chinese factories and sell to customers worldwide. They can also partner with, invest in, or acquire outright, CEPA-qualified firms within the SAR. Hong Kong is still virgin territory for India. Indian companies have surprisingly shown scant interest in listing themselves on the Hong Kong stock exchange. They should now do so, in large numbers, to catch up with their counterparts from other countries. They should start a drive to diversify their trade and business with and through Hong Kong. And they should make their presence felt at the Asian Financial Forum slated for January 2012.

The Government, for its part, should make sure that the Investment Promotion and Trade Agreement with Hong Kong, which has been in the works for far too long, gets going before the start of the Forum. What is urgently needed is a proactive strategy to benefit from the hitherto unexploited opportunities Hong Kong provides. Setting up a multi-disciplinary government-industry joint task force will be of great help in this direction.