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Gearing up for Full Participation in Belt and Road

By Thomas So, President, The Law Society of Hong Kong

In December 2017, the Hong Kong SAR Government signed an Arrangement (the ‘Arrangement’) with the National Development and Reform Commission for Advancing Hong Kong’s Full Participation in and Contribution to the Belt and Road Initiative (the ‘Initiative’).

The Arrangement highlights Hong Kong’s unique strengths in specific key areas and maps out Hong Kong’s role in the long term development of the Initiative. Twenty six provisions detailing the support and cooperation opportunities to be provided by China’s Central Government to Hong Kong in the areas of finance and investment, infrastructure and maritime services, economic and trade, and dispute resolution are set out in the Arrangement.

Equipped with the necessary talent and expertise, Hong Kong has secured an important role in the Initiative. Hong Kong is to serve as a super platform to facilitate, for instance, cross border regulated investment activities, the financing of infrastructure projects and the management of their implementation including consultation, project supervision, maintenance, insurance and environmental protection aspects. Enterprises in the Mainland are encouraged to set up their regional headquarters in Hong Kong and to use Hong Kong as a platform to go global in partnership with Hong Kong enterprises. Provisions on the further opening up of the Mainland market to Hong Kong and enhancements of CEPA are included. The Arrangement also supports Hong Kong to play an active role in driving the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Bay Area and to act as a two-way open platform to facilitate respectively international and Mainland investors to go in and out of the Bay Area cities. The Arrangement has affirmed Hong Kong’s status as a global hub for offshore Renminbi businesses, for maritime and aviation services as well as for dispute resolution services.

The Arrangement sets the direction for Hong Kong’s future involvement in this visionary Initiative which will impact generations in many years to come. As the development progresses, the demand for professional services will increase. Our profession must be well prepared to grasp the opportunities when they arise.

It has however been noted that the HKSAR Government’s approach is often narrowly focused on the dispute resolution capability of the legal profession. Its promotional activities are heavily geared towards arbitration services. However, in addition to arbitration, the services that solicitors in Hong Kong can provide cover a wide range relating to capital markets, banking and finance, mergers and acquisitions, real estate and construction, insurance, shipping and many others. The key measures identified in the Arrangement demonstrate that legal services support will be in great demand in many of these practice areas.

Whenever a suitable opportunity arises, the Law Society promotes the availability of a full range of legal services in Hong Kong to the international community. Further, taking into account that the projects arising from the Initiative will mostly be cross-jurisdictional, the Law Society will be introducing more training courses on cross-border transactions to equip our practitioners with the necessary skills.

In addition, the Law Society has been leading efforts to strengthen our Hong Kong brand as a world class legal service provider. This encompasses work on various fronts, including maintaining professional standards through relevant and effective training for our members and sharing our professional legal training with other jurisdictions.

The Initiative has brought immense opportunities for an expansion of the legal services market to various emerging economies. The Law Society has been coordinating efforts in opening up these emerging markets and promoting the quality services Hong Kong solicitors can offer to them. On 12 May 2017, the Law Society held our Inaugural Belt and Road Conference (‘the Conference’) attracting over 650 participants. The Conference created a platform for our members to showcase their capabilities and to connect with potential business partners from overseas jurisdictions. During the Conference, 39 law associations from 24 jurisdictions signed a “Hong Kong Manifesto” uniting efforts to advance the legal profession’s interests and to capitalize on the business opportunities arising from the Initiative.

This year, the Law Society will organise its second Belt and Road Conference on 28 September. The theme will be on “A, B, C” - Artificial intelligence, Blockchain and Cloud. The wave of technology has overwhelmed the world to an extent that the legal and ethical requirements are at the risk of being neglected to give way to technological innovations. Our 2018 Conference will focus on the legal and ethical challenges in building a smart Belt and Road. As in last year’s Conference, the Law Society will extend invitations to our overseas counterparts along the Belt and Road to join the 2018 Conference. It will be an excellent opportunity for members to reach out, build their connections and exchange professionally with a broader network. More details about the 2018 Conference will be announced in due course, but for those interested, please mark your diary first.

Please click to read the full report.

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