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Hong Kong Report for the Year 1967/Chapter 4

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Hong Kong Report for the Year 1967
Chapter 4: Industry and Trade

Hong Kong is an industrial territory with an economy based on exports rather than on its domestic market. At the same time it remains basically a free port. The change from dependence upon entrepôt trade has taken place over the past 18 years, although before that industry was not entirely new to Hong Kong. By the turn of the century, shipbuilding and shipbreaking industries had developed as a natural extension of port activities. Some light industries were established before 1939. But industrial development on a significant scale did not take place until political changes in China, followed by the Korean war and consequent trade restrictions, signalled the end of the entrepôt trade as a basis for the economy. The simultaneous arrival of refugees from the mainland brought in additional manpower and in some cases technical knowledge and capital. As a result, while the entrepôt trade declined, there was an increase in the manufacture and export of cotton textiles—a development which proved to be the foundation for subsequent light industrial expansion.

United States regulations prohibiting the purchase of Chinese manufactured goods provided another stimulus to the manufacture of certain categories of products in Hong Kong for the American market. Certification procedures designed by the Commerce and Industry Department, in association with the United States authorities, were introduced to prevent the substitution of Chinese goods. This protected the interests of local manufacturers and permitted exports of Hong Kong products to the American market. Restrictions in the trade in cotton textiles between Japan and the United States in the late 1950's caused American buyers to turn to Hong Kong as an alternative source of supply. Since then the United States has become the largest market for Hong Kong products, particularly for textiles and garments.

Hong Kong's industrial economy thus derives from various circumstances, few of which originally appeared favourable. But with these circumstances—all of them outside Hong Kong's control and some of them fortuitous—must also be considered the political stability of the territory and its encouragement of enterprise. There has been a steadfast policy of preserving free competition, of generally refusing to accept demands for protection of particular industries or demands for retaliation against other countries' restrictive actions. Widespread skill in merchandising techniques inherited from the entrepôt era, plus highly developed banking, insurance and shipping systems, have helped to make this policy successful. For Hong Kong the industries likely to survive and prosper are those whose products can either be exported without subsidy or be sold in the domestic market without protection. Hong Kong has therefore remained true to the traditions established when it was an entrepôt, with no tariffs and few restrictions on the entry of goods from any quarter of the globe.

In matters affecting internal and external trade, the Director of Commerce and Industry is assisted by advice from the Trade and Industry Advisory Board. This is a body of unofficial senior representatives of commerce, industry, banking, etc, nominated by the Governor, of which the director is chairman. It meets regularly at least once a month. A more specialized board, the Cotton Advisory Board, first appointed in 1961, is consulted on matters affecting the cotton textile industry.

During the year, industry has had to accept the disruptions caused by rioting, water shortages, reduced public transport and the devaluation of sterling. That it has managed to meet all these difficulties and still achieve a 17 per cent increase in the value of domestic exports during 1967 shows the basic strength of the economy and augurs well for the future.

Industry[edit]

The general facility with which industry may be established and conducted in Hong Kong has attracted investors. Most industrialists are Hong Kong residents of Chinese race, and the greater part of their capital resources are self-generated. In recent years, however, overseas interests–in particular American, Australian, British and Japanese–have increasingly entered into licensing arrangements with Hong Kong firms and into outer forms of industrial co-operation. The variety of goods produced in Hong Kong is now considerable. In general, while heavy industry such as shipbuilding and steel rolling continues to be important, Hong Kong is best known for the competitive price and range of its light industrial products and their rapidly improving quality.

Industrial Productivity[edit]

The problem of improving industrial productivity in Hong Kong is one of concern to the government and to private enterprise. During the year, a statutory Productivity Council and a Productivity Centre were established. Legislation to provide for the Council was introduced in December 1966, and it was brought into being in January 1967, replacing a provisional council which had been working since 1965. The council comprises a chairman and 20 members, all appointed by the Governor, of whom 10 represent management, labour, academic and professional interests. The other 10 represent government departments closely associated with productivity matters.

A management consultant was appointed early in the year to head the new Productivity Centre. Internal training courses were conducted to prepare the centre's own staff to implement an integrated programme. Preparations were also underway to recruit international experts to assist the centre in training consultants who would offer services to industry.

A pilot-training centre was opened in September. It includes a reference library and lecture rooms fitted with the latest audiovisual equipment. One of the more important events at the centre was an export marketing training course, implemented at the request of the Asian Productivity Organization, with participants from APO member countries.

Hong Kong is one of the 12 member countries of the Asian Productivity Organization. The Colony was represented at the seventh Workshop Meeting of directors of national productivity centres, held in Tokyo in January, and at the eighth Governing Body Meeting in Seoul in April. As in previous years, a considerable number of Hong Kong nominees participated during the year in study missions, seminars, symposia and training courses in Asian countries. Hong Kong acted as host to a special meeting of APO member countries in October to lay down guide-lines for a five-year training and development programme.

Textiles[edit]

The textile industry not only dominates Hong Kong's economy, accounting for 49 per cent of its domestic exports and employing 40 per cent of its industrial labour force, but is also a significant factor in international trade in textiles (see International Economic Relations, below). In all sectors, the manufacture and processing of cotton goods predominate. The cotton spinning mills, operating some 767,000 spindles, are among the most up-to-date in the world. Cotton yarn counts range from 10's to 60's carded and combed, in single or multiple threads. Production of all counts in 1967 was estimated at approximately 295 million pounds, the greater part of which was consumed by local weavers. In the piecegoods weaving section, which has 22,700 looms, grey cotton drill, canvas, shirting, poplins, ginghams and other bleached and dyed cloth and prints are the main items. Production of cotton piecegoods in 1967 was estimated to be approximately 716 million square yards. Much of this was exported as cloth, but there is an increasing tendency for garment manufacturers to use domestic materials which was encouraged this year by the reduction in supplies of grey cloth from China.

The use of fibres other than cotton, and new processes in the finishing and garment industries, are assuming growing significance. Nine textile concerns are producing polyester-cotton and polyester-viscose yarn for weaving into shirting and other fabrics for which there is now a more rapid growth in demand than for comparable cotton products. The demand for woollen knitwear has continued to grow. The production of the woollen and worsted spinning industry goes mostly to the domestic knitting industry, although some is woven into cloth. Other woven products include silk and rayon brocade of traditional Chinese design, tapes, military webbing, lace, mosquito netting, carpets and rugs. Significant developments in the dyeing, printing and finishing sector were multi-colour screen and roller printing, pre-shrinking and permanent-pressing by several processes under licence, and polymerizing for the production of drip-dry fabrics.

The manufacture of garments remains the largest sector within the industry, employing 61,500 workers. A wide range and variety of clothing, from high fashion dresses to cotton singlets, is produced for export all over the world. Embroidered blouses, beaded or sequinned woollen cardigans, silk and brocade, and evening coats have worldwide popularity while, in conformity with world trends, demand has increased significantly for permanent press garments. Custom and mail order tailoring, principally of men's suits, has developed rapidly in recent years as an important branch of industry. Knitting mills produce towels, tee-shirts, underwear and nightwear, swimsuits, gloves, socks and stockings in cotton, silk, wool and other fabrics. From a total of $862 million in 1961, the value of exports of clothing has risen to $2,317 million in 1967, produced by some 1,170 factories.

Other Light Industries[edit]

In the ever-widening range of light industry the most prominent, after textiles, is the manufacture of plastic articles. Skill in the cutting of moulds and dies, together with the ability to meet short orders, have resulted in increased exports of a very wide variety of products. These include artificial flowers, toys and dolls, household ware, household furniture of polypropylene, and PVC sheeting and coated fabrics. The industry manufactured exports worth some $833 million during the year.

There has been spectacular growth in the electronics industry. The manufacture or assembly of transistor radios began only in 1959, but since then exports of transistor radios have increased to reach a total of 11.7 million sets worth $210 million in 1967. The industry exports its products all over the world with its principal markets in the United Kingdom and the United States. The manufacture of electronic components is also making rapid progress. A number of leading American electronic manufacturers have established subsidiaries in Hong Kong. Silicon transistors and diodes, condensers, transformers, capacitors, resistors, loudspeakers and printed circuit boards are now produced and exported in substantial quantities. Other electronic products include television sets and tuners, transceivers and computer memory cores.

While the growth of the plastics and electronics industries illustrate how quickly Hong Kong can react to export opportunities, older established light industries of many varieties have continued to develop and expand. They include the manufacture of air-conditioners, aluminiumware, clocks and watches, cordage, electrical appliances and equipment, enamelware, food and beverages, footwear, light metal products—especially stainless steel ware—optical and photographic equipment, paint, vacuum flasks, furniture and furnishings. The manufacture of hair wigs has developed dramatically during the last few years, the principal market being the United States. Exports during 1967 were valued at $197 million. Some 9,620 workers are employed in their manufacture.

Heavy Industries[edit]

Hong Kong's major shipyards are equipped to build ocean-going vessels of more than 10,000 tons deadweight and also to construct and install engines. At the other end of the scale, pleasure-craft and utility vessels of all kinds, including ocean-going yachts, vehicle and passenger ferries, sloops, cruisers, speedboats of wood and fibre glass, yawls and steel lighters are regularly produced for local use and for export. The traditional Chinese junk, slightly modified from the basic design used for many centuries, has also been exported as a comfortable and stable pleasure-craft.

Activity in the shipbreaking industry has declined considerably since 1961 and the tonnage of ships broken up during the year dropped again. Steel rolling mills, which used to depend primarily on the scrap obtained from ship breaking, are now more dependent upon imported steel billets and locally collected scrap. These mills produce mild steel bars, window sections, angles and channels and other metal products used in building construction. Although some rods and bars are shipped abroad, principally to South-East Asian countries, the steel mills rely heavily on domestic sales which have suffered from the recent decline in the building industry. Several rolling mills produce brass and aluminium sheets and circles, most of which are used for the manufacture of consumer goods. Recently the industry has had to face severe competition from imported bars and rods selling at lower prices and, as a result, many mills are operating at reducing capacity. The industry is now engaged in a large scale modernization programme involving heavy capital investment in new sites and plant.

Hong Kong's separation from its principal markets and lack of indigenous raw materials are among the factors which have produced a concentration of resources on light industry while heavy industry has developed only where a domestic market was available. Two relatively new industrial ventures illustrate this point. The demands of the Hong Kong construction industry have resulted in the establishment of one factory to manufacture spiral welded pipes of all dimensions, and another to produce extruded aluminium fittings and sections.

In similar fashion, the expansion of light industry has stimulated the manufacture of machinery and parts. Hong Kong-made machinery, built originally for domestic industry, is now exported to many overseas markets. Of particular importance are plastic blow moulding and injection moulding machines, power presses, lathes and planing machines.

Aircraft engineering is another important industry; one large establishment provides maintenance and repair facilities for most airlines using Hong Kong Airport. Facilities are available for complete airframe and engine overhaul, and work has been received from countries as far afield as Australia and Canada. Local manufactures can produce most of Hong Kong's requirement for cement, most of the raw materials being imported. A new cement factory was opened in October.

Land for Industry[edit]

Government land development programmes include the zoning of land for industrial use. Large-scale reclamation schemes are being carried out at several places. Reclamation at Kwum Tongm which began in 1955, is now complete. The scheme provided 641 acres of which 154 are solely for industrial use. At the end of the year 503 factories were already operating, employing 48,445 workers or over 12 per cent of Hong Kong's industrial work force. Another major development scheme is in progress at Kwai Chung and many new factories are already in operation there. Long-term development plans of two new towns, Castle Peak and Sha Tin, have been approved in principle. The opening, in November, of a new road to Sha Tin, passing through the Lion Rock Tunnel, should influence development in this area.

In the development areas of Kwun Tong, the Tsuen Wan complex, and Sam Ka Tsuen, purchasers of industrial land leases can pay by instalments over 20 years. Purchasers of industrial land elsewhere in the Colony can pay in four equal interest-free instalments, spread over two years. During 1967, there was little demand for land for industrial development and only seven industrial sites were auctioned.

There is a considerable surplus of flatted factory space for small scale industry. This has reduced the demand for industrial land.

External Trade[edit]

The value of Hong Kong's external trade in 1967 was maintained at a high level despite the disturbances described in Chapter I. The combined value of imports, exports and re-exports of merchandise trade reached $19,230 million. This was due to substantial rises in domestic exports and re-exports of 17 per cent and 14 per cent respectively. Cargo tonnage by all means of transport totalled 11,457,812 tons. Trade statistics, including a breakdown by countries and commodities and comparisons with previous years, are contained in Appendices XV to XXI.

Imports were valued at $10,449 million. Although domestic supplies of agricultural produce and fish are substantial, most of Hong Kong's foodstuffs have to be imported, and food was the principal import, valued at $2,329 million, representing 22 per cent of all imports. The chief items of edible imports were live animals, rice and other cereals, fruits and vegetables, dairy products and eggs, and fish and fish preparations. Raw materials and semi-manufactured goods for industry included textile fibres and yarns, base metals and plastic moulding materials. Capital goods imported included machinery and transport equipment. Mineral fuels and lubricants were also imported in large quantities.

The sources of imports are determined by proximity, prices, speed of delivery and by traditional trade relationships. China remained Hong Kong's principal supplier, providing 22 per cent of all imports, and 47 per cent of all food imports, despite a considerable reduction during the months from June to September, inclusive. Other items imported from China included textile fabrics, cement, paper, clothing and base metals most of which showed a decline. Imports from Japan, the second largest supplier, accounted for 19 per cent of imports from all sources. Of imports from Japan 34 per cent were textile yarn and fabrics; the rest were made-up of base metals, electric apparatus and appliances, chemicals and miscellaneous manufactured articles. Imports from the United States registered an increase of $321 million or 29 per cent. The principal imports from the United States were raw cotton, tobacco, machinery, fruits, plastic materials and medicinal and pharmaceutical products. Imports from the United Kingdom showed a slight increase and were mainly machinery, motor vehicles and textile fabrics. The new valuation of the Hong Kong dollar, in November, is not likely to alter this basic pattern.

The value of domestic exports reached a total of $6,700 million, an increase of 17 per cent over the previous year. Products of the textile and garment manufacturing industries accounted for 49 per cent by value, and miscellaneous manufactured articles, mainly plastic goods and wigs, made up a further 22 per cent. Other light industrial products such as electric apparatus and appliances, footwear, and manufactures of metals were also important exports.

The direction of Hong Kong's export trade is influenced by such factors as the advantages of preference in Britain and several smaller Commonwealth markets, and economic conditions and commercial policies in overseas markets. During the year 54 per cent of all domestic exports by value went to two markets—the United States and the United Kingdom, in a ratio roughly of two to one. The United States, remaining the largest market, took 37 per cent by value and increased her purchases by $468 million or 23 per cent. The value of all goods sent to the United Kingdom was $1,147 million, 16 per cent of all domestic exports. The Federal Republic of Germany, which remained the third largest market, purchased Hong Kong manufactures worth $371 million during the year. Other growing markets of importance included Canada, Japan and Australia, but domestic exports now go to practically every country in the world.

The entrepôt trade has sustained its role in external commerce. The value of re-exports in 1967 totaled $2,081 million, an increase of 14 per cent over 1966. This was 24 per cent of the total combined value of exports of Hong Kong manufactures and re-exports of imported goods. During 1967, Indonesia overtook Japan and became the most important re-export market. Singapore took third place, followed by the United States, Belgium, Macau and Taiwan. The principal commodities in the re-export trade were textile fabrics, diamonds, medicinal and pharmaceutical products, and animal and vegetable crude materials.

Trade Promotion[edit]

This was the first full working year of the newly formed Trade Development Council. Established as a statutory corporation under an independent chairman, it is composed of two representatives each from the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Hong Kong Industries and the Chinese Manufacturers' Association; the chairman of the Hong Kong Tourist Association and the Exchange Banks Association; two senior government officials—the Director of Commerce and Industry and the Director of Information Services; and four members appointed by name. The council has a permanent secretariat under an executive director and it is financed by subventions from the government, roughly equivalent to the existing support from general revenue for trade promotion, plus a levy on the value of trade imposed on the commercial and industrial community. Its head office is in the ocean terminal, Kowloon, where it maintains a permanent display of Hong Kong products.

The programme of active promotion during the year concentrated more on selling missions than attendance at fairs. The first mission went to Scandinavia in April, and one went to Spain in May. These markets have shown definite increases in trade, particularly Norway, Denmark and Sweden, and members of the missions reported good business. In both Spain and Scandinavia the council has appointed public relations consultants to keep Hong Kong's name before the public. In June, in an attempt to diversify Hong Kong's trade with Austria and Switzerland, a mission was sent to these countries.

A mission to East Africa in September had a novel approach. An exhibition of products was housed in a mobile display area designed by the council's design team and constructed in Hong Kong. It was fitted on a standard trailer chassis and travelled widely in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, attracting a great deal of attention with resulting excellent business.

A businessman's mission to Canada, in September, was organized by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce on the council's behalf. It visited all the main towns and a large volume of business was reported. The last mission of the year was to Australia when the delegates travelled from Brisbane to Perth with satisfactory results. Before each mission, painstaking research was conducted to ensure that the right products were being taken into the markets.

At the London offices of the council several specialized displays were held which attracted buyers from Europe and the United Kingdom. In America, the now familiar participation in Department Stores Festivals took place with an enlarged and varied team visiting stores, mainly in the Middle West.

In efforts to plan better services for the exporter and exporting manufacturer the council organized the collection, analysis and distribution of market information, provided expert guidance and assistance to local firms and developed means of contact with overseas buyers. An expert from the International Marketing Institute in the United States visited Hong Kong to review and advise on information systems.

The council expanded its Brussels office and the office in Sydney was moved to larger premises. After the disturbances each office undertook a special campaign to help re-establish confidence in Hong Kong as a viable trading partner, with considerable success. The Brussels office covered most of Europe in a particularly intensive campaign of lectures, articles and booklets explaining the Hong Kong situation in sober, factual terms.