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Opportune moment

Despite the downturn, there remain very considerable opportunities for British companies in Hong Kong, according to Andrew Seaton of the British Consulate-General.

Construction opportunities go far wider than the mega road and rail projects. Major housing programmes are under way, land reclamations planned and a new container port is on the cards.

Hong Kong also provides a cost effective way for small and medium size enterprises to make a move into China, he suggests.

'Linking up with a Hong Kong partner or using a Hong Kong agent must be an approach that any small to medium sized enterprise approaching the China market should consider.'

He commends the Hong Kong desk of the DTI as the first point of contact. In Hong Kong itself, there is the British Chamber of Commerce, of particular assistance to companies thinking of setting up an operation there; and the British Consulate-General, whose sole aim is to help British companies win business.

Hong Kong is Britain's 12th biggest market, with exports of about £3.2bn in 1997 - 'an astonishing figure given Hong Kong's size and population', says Seaton. There is also substantial trade in services, perhaps another £1bn.

About 1,000 British companies operate in Hong Kong, from tiny consultancies to household names, and there has been no sign of discrimination against them since the handover.

There is, however, more emphasis on employing local staff. 'Local' is generally taken to mean people of whatever nationality who have lived in HK for seven years.

Some argue that foreign shareholdings and people with Caucasian faces should be kicked out. 'I would completely disagree with that,' says Hyder's Edmund Leung. He feels HK's construction industry works so well because it is able to attract top professionals from all around the world.

In Hyder's office alone, there are more than 10 nationalities. 'Discriminating against foreign people is not a policy I would recommend Hong Kong to adopt,' he says.

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