Arthur Bowring, managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association (HKSOA), always comes across as a man with a lot on his plate when Maritime CEO comes calling. This latest visit, however, it seems he’s also a man in a hurry to get things done – there’s a clock ticking that’s seemingly getting ever louder in the HKSOA’s Wan Chai office.
What’s clear is that while he might be very unpopular with the local population at large, CY Leung, the chief executive of Hong Kong, has done – and will do – more for local shipping than any other leader since reunification in 1997. The problem? Leung leaves in 2017, hence the tick tocking.
Bowring has just got back from this year’s successful London International Shipping Week (LISW) when Maritime CEO pops by. LISW has clearly impressed. Throughout the week the British government has been bombarded with facts and figures from UK industry-led reports on the importance of maritime to the local economy. Bowring laments that Hong Kong’s major maritime reports this century have all been commissioned by government. “Industry-led reports help persuade government,” he says.
Nevertheless, Bowring remains upbeat by Leung’s clear commitment to shipping. “The chief executive has said he’ll set up a statutory maritime authority,” Bowring says. “There is in government,” he adds, “an intention to reorganise and to have a better consultative system.”
With the clock above him ticking, Bowring then stresses: “We have to get this in concrete by 2017 when CY Leung will leave power.”
It is not just the upper echelons of government, Bowring says he can see other parts of the state – Hong Kong Invest, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council among others – showing a greater interest to shipping.
At this point, Bowring reverts to familiar mantra that he has issued time and again over his near-20 year reign at the HKSOA.
“Hong Kong is a barren rock in the South China Sea,” he says. “It has no resources. People, location and policies have to be our strengths. Competiveness, not incentives, is key.” Hong Kong government does not do sectoral support, he points out.
Bowring reckons Hong Kong has people and location sorted. “What we need now is policy,” he maintains.
With government coming out in support of shipping the key now is to get the city’s Legislative Council – the de facto parliament – to follow suit, Bowring says.
Bowring will be more than ably accompanied in his quest to garner support by the new leadership at the association. Sabrina Chao, the 41-year-old chairman of Wah Kwong, has just been anointed the new chairman of the HKSOA, with China Navigation’s chairman JB Rae-Smith in as deputy chairman, giving the body a very youthful, punchy four years of leadership.
“We have so many strengths as a shipping centre, but they are often not properly recognized or promoted,” Chao tells Maritime CEO, adding: “We need to make sure that Hong Kong is top of the list when companies are looking to expand their presence in the region, so we need to talk up our advantages.”
More double taxation agreements with key trading partners are among early priorities for the Wah Kwong boss. The clock is ticking.