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Opportunities for HK-Middle East collaboration are endless

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Opportunities for HK-Middle East collaboration are endless

By Albert Yip Hing-fai and Kacee Ting Wong

Much has been said about the attempts made by Hong Kong to follow in the footsteps of Singapore to actively explore economic opportunities in the Middle East. At present, Singapore is an entrenched trading partner of the Gulf States. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary-General Jasem Mohamed Al-Budaiwi recently met Singapore’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Wen Zhao Ming, in Riyadh to promote and strengthen multilateral trade relations.

Al-Budaiwi stressed that the GCC countries have distinguished relations with Singapore, especially in trade and investment. In fact, the free-trade agreement between Singapore and the GCC, which was signed in 2008, was the first free-trade agreement signed by the GCC.

Unlike Singapore, which enjoys first-mover advantage in the Middle East, Hong Kong is embarking on a steep learning curve to struggle with the languages, history, institutions, government policies and business cultures of Arab countries. One of the aims of our research is to provide concise background information and in-depth analyses for local investors to help them ease into their new business adventures in the GCC markets. The following discussion will focus on the business opportunities in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Under Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia actively seeks to attract investment projects that promote the development of non-oil sectors, transfer foreign technology and expertise, create new jobs for local people (the Saudization program) and increase exports.

Hesitation will come at a great cost to Hong Kong investors because the lucrative market in Saudi Arabia is critically and strategically important. Indeed, many US and European companies are eager to invest in lucrative green-tech projects in the kingdom.

There are strong incentives for Saudi Arabia to develop its green-tech industry. Long-term estimates suggest that by 2038 Saudi Arabia will have become a net importer of oil. In other words, the kingdom must diversify its economy. The sharp drop in the price of oil in the second half of 2014 has strengthened the kingdom’s perceptions of the threat of overreliance on the export of oil.

Climate change has left Riyadh with no room to retreat from its determination to develop green technology projects. As a key supporter of greentech, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has declared that his country — which is already feeling the effects of climate change in the form of droughts, extreme temperatures, and rising sea levels — will zero out its heavy carbon footprint by 2060. Hong Kong can act as a “superconnector” between greentech companies and investors from the Chinese mainland and the Middle East. It is worth noting that China is also advancing toward the “3060” dual carbon targets.

Another area of interest for Hong Kong investors is the development of smart cities in the kingdom. One megaproject is called NEOM. Envisioned as an innovative urban ecosystem in the Red Sea region, NEOM will be fully powered by sustainable and renewable energy and deployed with robotics. How smart they are will be will depend on big data analytics.

In Hong Kong, the “iAM Smart” platform aims to provide the public with more convenient one-stop digital services and improved user experience. Riding on the back of the platform and forging a strategic partnership with the Chinese mainland’s big data analytical companies, Hong Kong may expand its vision to provide technological support for the development of smart cities in Saudi Arabia.

Not to be overlooked are the opportunities offered by the financial technology sector in Saudi Arabia. Following the launch of the Fintech Saudi initiative in May 2018, the first fintech license was approved a month later to provide crowdfunding services. With a sophisticated fintech sector, the Chinese mainland is the market leader accounting for 99.2 percent of the total Asia-Pacific crowdfunding market. Hong Kong can act as a middleman between fintech companies on the Chinese mainland and in Saudi Arabia.

Finance companies in the kingdom must operate crowdfunding platforms and the issuance of Sukuk (Islamic bonds) in strict compliance with Shariah. Hong Kong’s universities need to offer more Shariah-compliance courses. We may also consider forging academic cooperation with Malaysian universities to design practical Shariah-compliance courses. Besides, Hong Kong should take active measures to promote the issuance of Islamic bonds in the city.

Seeking cooperation with the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) should also top the list of Hong Kong investors’ Saudi Arabian investment agenda. Foreign companies are allowed to list on the Tadawul, subject to the same listing, disclosure and governance requirements as Saudi listed companies. The Hong Kong Stock Exchanges and Clearing Ltd (HKEX) should consider forging partnership with the Tadawul to explore cross-border listings and joint product development.

Turning to the investment opportunities in the UAE, Hong Kong investors have traditionally put the spotlight on Dubai, which is the most populous city in the UAE. The UAE is a high-income country with a GDP per capita of over $44,000 in 2021. In 2010, the UAE launched “Vision 2021” to build a diversified, sustainable and flexible economy. “We the UAE 2031” further builds on “Vision 2021” to continue the development path on economic diversification and improvement in the livelihoods of the Emiratis. The above development plans offer vast opportunities for Hong Kong companies and can help them establish a foothold in the UAE.

Because Dubai’s oil reserves have diminished significantly, it has made strenuous efforts to diversify its economy in the past few decades. Real estate and construction, trade, entrepot and financial services are the largest contributors to Dubai’s economy. Hong Kong investors may turn to the financial sector in Dubai as a focal point of their investment initiative because the Dubai international financial center is so well-developed. Since its opening in September 2004, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has attracted many leading international firms. It has also set up the Nasdaq Dubai, which lists equity, derivatives, structured products, Islamic bonds and other bonds. The DIFC model is an independent risk-based regulator with a legislative system consistent with English common law. The HKEX should explore collaborative opportunities with the Dubai stock exchange.

As a latecomer, Hong Kong must work harder to explore economic opportunities in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf states. In order to capture these opportunities, we must evaluate whether we have adequate knowledge of the languages, history, institutions, government policies and business cultures of the new markets. If not, we should fill the knowledge gap immediately. Chance favors the prepared mind.

Albert Yip Hing-fai is the principal solicitor of HF Yip & Co and director of national security education of Chinese Dream Think Tank.

Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and Macao Basic Law Research Center, and chairman of Chinese Dream Think Tank.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

【CDTT Newspaper Article】Albert Yip Hing-fai and Kacee Ting Wong:Opportunities for HK-Middle East collaboration are endless (China Daily HK Edition, 12 Sept 2023)

https://www.chinadailyhk.com/article/350618#Opportunities-for-HK-Middle-East-collaboration-are-endless

Chinese Dream Think Tank is a non-profit Hong Kong-based organization working with skilled volunteers, experts and professionals who are passionate about telling the China story well.

This article is reproduced by Kwun Media with the consent of China Daily.

中國夢智庫| 中東與特區更緊密經貿關係 

新加坡是海灣國家堅實的貿易夥伴。近日,為促進與加強多邊貿易關係,「海灣阿拉伯國家合作委員會」(「GCC」) 賈西姆·布達維(H.E. Jasem Al Budaiwi)在沙特首都會見新加坡大使Mr Wen Zhao Ming。會議上,布達維先生強調,特別在貿易與投資方面「GCC」國家與新加坡有著非常密切的關係(註1)。有見新加坡在相關領域的飛速發展,特區也加快腳步,踏上探索與中東地區更緊密經貿聯繫的道路。不說不知道,新加坡早在2008年就與「GCC」簽署了海灣國家有史以來簽定的第一個自由貿易協定。

在中東吃了「頭啖湯」(第一口湯)的新加坡與特區的不同之處在於咱們還在經歷一個艱苦的學習過程,特區與阿拉伯國家在語言、歷史、制度、政府政策與商業文化等、個個領域還存在著很大的差異。作者撰文,初探阿拉伯國家投資背景與相關資訊,嘗試通過分析來幫助有意海外投資阿拉伯國家的特區拓展人士。以下討論將側重於在沙特阿拉伯與阿聯酋兩地呈現着的商機。

根據「2030年願景」,沙特阿拉伯正積極尋求促進國內非石油經濟項目的發展,通過引進外國技術與專業知識,為當地人民創造新就業機會(沙特化計劃「Saudization Program」)與為國內出口投資專項增加活力。當下的特區投資者們如果有猶豫而蹉跎,「2030年願景」所帶來的巨大商機將會從咱們指缝間流走。現在,沙特阿拉伯可是「富得流油」,經濟強勁,市場利潤豐厚。這些都對特區投資者們具有重要的戰略意義。儘管最近發生的沙特阿拉伯記者賈邁勒·卡舒吉(Jamal Khashoggi)失蹤案(註2)震驚世界,但許多美國投資者與歐洲公司仍然死盯着在沙特阿拉伯投資綠色技術專項所能產生的豐厚利潤(註3)。

沙特阿拉伯有充分的原因與動力大力發展綠色技術項目。 長期估計表明,至2038年,沙特阿拉伯將成為石油凈進國(註4)。2014年下半年發生的石油價格大幅下跌已提醒沙特阿拉伯過度依賴石油出口將會釀成大禍,換言之,阿拉伯國家必須多樣化當地的經濟結構(註5)。

沙特阿拉伯是個位於沙漠區的國家,長期處於乾旱,極端天氣與海平面上升等氣候變化的影響。因此,利雅得對氣候變化問題可說是全力投入責無旁貸。作為綠色技術的主要支持者與永不放棄開發綠色技術項目的決心,王儲穆罕默德·本·薩勒曼 (Mohammed bin Salman)宣佈,至2060年沙特阿拉伯將本國比較突出的碳足跡問題歸零(註6)。大家注意,祖國亦正朝著「3060雙碳目標」邁進(註7)。如筆者早前所述,特區可以充當內地與中東綠色科技公司與投資者之間的超級聯繫人。

特區投資者應該感興趣的另一個領域是沙特王國靠近紅海的大型智慧城市項目「新未來城」發展。它被規劃為智慧城市、旅遊城市與創新城市生態系統。它的發展將完全由可持續與可再生能源提供動力,並注入機器人技術(註8)。總之一句話,「新未來城」高光時刻取決於大數據分析。 在特區,「智方便」(iAM Smart)平台為市民提供更便利一站式數碼服務及改善用戶服務(註9)。基於「智方便」的發展與配合我國內地大數據分析公司,相互建立戰略合作夥伴關係,特區投資者大可打開視野,為沙特王國的智慧「新未來城」發展提供技術支援。

沙特阿拉伯金融科技行業同樣也呈現出不容忽視的商機。繼2018年5月啟動「沙特金融科技計劃」(Fintech Saudi initiative),沙特阿拉伯有關政府部門在一個月後就批出第一個以提供眾籌服務的金融科技牌照(註10)。憑借成熟的金融科技領域技術市場領導者地位,我國占有整個亞太99.2%的眾籌市場(註11)。因此,特區可以充當祖國與沙特阿拉伯金融科技公司之間的聯繫人。

再來,沙特王國的財務公司將會嚴格按照伊斯蘭教法運營眾籌平臺與發行伊斯蘭債券(Issuance of Sukuk)。咱們本地大學在情況允許下提供為莘莘學子們提供更多符合伊斯蘭教法的金融課程。大家也可考慮與馬來西亞大學建立學術合作,為特區本地學生設計實用伊斯蘭教法合規課程。此外,特區政府也應採取積極措施,促進本港金融業發行伊斯蘭債券。

對於欲入沙投資的特區投資者來說,特區政府與「沙特證券交易所」(Tadawul)互聯互通合作可以說是投資議程的頭等大事。這個意見的可行性在於只要外資公司遵守與沙特阿拉伯本土公司上市、披露與管理規定,Tadawul 允許外國公司在沙上市。「香港交易所」應考慮與Tadawul建立合作夥伴關係,探討跨境上市與開發聯合產品開發平台。

談到阿聯酋的投資機會,特區投資者傳統上將焦點放在人口最多的城市迪拜。阿聯酋是一個高收入國家,2021年人均GDP超過44,000美元。2010年,阿聯酋為建立一個多元化、可持續與靈活的經濟而啟動「UAE Vision 2021」。在此基礎上,阿聯酋近期又推出「We the UAE 2031」 ,繼續推進阿聯酋經濟多元化與改善民生的發展道路(註12)。這些發展計劃為來自特區的公司提供巨大商機,能助特區公司在阿聯酋站穩腳跟。

由於過度開採原油,迪拜的石油儲量近年來大幅減少,在過去幾十年間,迪拜為經濟多元化做出了艱苦的努力。比如說,房地產、建築業、出口貿易、轉口港與金融服務業是現今迪拜經濟的最大支柱產業(註13)。「迪拜國際金融中心」是中東地區發展得數一數二的金融中心,自2004年9月開業以來,迪拜國際金融中心吸引了眾多國際公司巨頭入住。特區投資者大可將金融業作為入沙投資計劃的落腳點。迪拜還在2005年設立「纳斯達克迪拜」(Nasdaq Dubai),運作上市股票、股票衍生品、結構性金融產品、伊斯蘭債券與其他債券。「迪拜國際金融中心」是以一個獨立、基於風險管理機構營運模式,法律監管體系與英國普通法一致(註14)。「港交所」應繼續探索與「迪拜證券交易所」的合作機會。

作為後來者,特區必須加倍努力,進一步探索與沙特阿拉伯、阿聯酋和其他海灣國家的合作商機。為把握好機會,太家須盡可能評估特區整體是否對這個新市場的語言、歷史、制度、政府政策與商業文化有足夠的瞭解。要不然,如果沒有,咱們應立即補習一下,填補自身的知識空白點。機會總是留給有準備的人。

事實與資料來源已核查

註 1: The Saudi Press Agency「GCC Secretary General: Stronger Gulf-Singapore Relations Lead to Mutual Benefit」02.08.2023 available at: https://www.spa.gov.sa/en/1424d53a30w#

註 2: Amy Chang Chien「暴行、預謀……沙烏地阿拉伯記者失蹤案的四個英文關鍵詞」紐約時報 20.10.2018 available at: https://cn.nytimes.com/culture/20181020/wod-khashoggi-killing/zh-hant/

註 3: Vivienne Walt「A Tidal Wave of Saudi Money」in Fortune Europe」August/September 2023 available at: https://www.zinio.com/hk/explore/free/fortune/augustseptember-2023-i606075/a-tidal-wave-of-saudi-money-a25762

註 4: Michael Burleigh「The Best of Times, the Worst of Times」London: Macmillan 2017 at p 67

註 5: Melissa Ho「Saudi Arabia: On the Road to Reform」in HKTDC Research 15.04.2019 available at: https://research.hktdc.com/en/article/MzQ0OTI3MTQ4

註 6: 同前,註 3 at p 11

註 7: 財政司司長陳茂波「二零二三至二四財政年度 政府財政預算案」22.02.2023 第58段 available at: https://www.budget.gov.hk/2023/chi/pdf/c_budget_speech_2023-24.pdf

註 8: Melissa Ho「Saudi Arabia: Vision 2030 Progress, Opportunities and Outlook (1)」in HKTDC Research 23.04.2019 available at: https://research.hktdc.com/en/article/MzUyODI2ODkw

註 9: 同前,註 7 at p 51

註 10: 同前,註 8

註 11: Francesca Di Pietro「Deciphering Crowdfunding」in Theo Lynn, et.al (eds.) 「Disrupting Finance」 Switzerland: Palgrave 2019 at p 5

註 12: United Arab Emirates「Market Profile」in HKTDC Research 14.04.2023 available at: https://research.hktdc.com/en/article/MzU3OTAyNjA4

註 13: 維基百科「迪拜」available at: https://zh.m.wikipedia.org/zh-hk/%E6%9D%9C%E6%8B%9C

註 14: 同上

文:葉慶輝律師
葉氏律師行創辦人

「中國夢智庫」國家安全教育事務總監

文:丁煌

深圳大學基本法研究中心兼職研究員
經民聯港島支部主席,「中國夢智庫」主席
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