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Hong Kong

Executive Summary

Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on July 1, 1997, with its status defined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. Under the concept of “one country, two systems,” the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government promised that Hong Kong would be vested with executive, legislative, and independent judicial power, and that its social and economic systems would remain unchanged for 50 years after reversion. The PRC’s imposition of the National Security Law (NSL) on June 30, 2020 undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and introduced heightened uncertainty for foreign and local firms operating in Hong Kong.

As a result, the U.S. Government has taken measures under Executive Order 13936 on Hong Kong Normalization to eliminate or suspend aspects of Hong Kong’s differential treatment, including issuing a suspension of licenses under the Arms Export Control Act, giving notice of termination of an agreement that provided for reciprocal tax exemption on income from the international operation of ships, establishing new marking rules requiring goods made in Hong Kong to be labeled “Made in China,” and imposing sanctions against several former and current Hong Kong and PRC government officials. On March 31, 2022, the Secretary of State again certified Hong Kong does not warrant treatment under U.S. law in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1, 1997.

Since the imposition of the NSL in Hong Kong by Beijing, U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Hong Kong may be subject to increased levels of surveillance, as well as arbitrary enforcement of laws and detention for purposes other than maintaining law and order. The PRC’s 14th Five-Year Plan through 2025, which includes long-range objectives for 2035, lays out a plan for Hong Kong to become more closely integrated into the overall development of the Mainland and encourages deeper co-operation between the Mainland and Hong Kong. On March 5, 2022, PRC Premier Li Keqiang asserted that Beijing intends to exercise “overall jurisdiction over the two SARs,” referring to Hong Kong and Macau.

On July 16, 2021, the Department of State, along with the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security, issued an advisory to U.S. businesses regarding potential risks to their operations and activities in Hong Kong. These include risks for businesses following the imposition of the NSL; data privacy risks; risks regarding transparency and access to critical business information; and risks for businesses with exposure to sanctioned Hong Kong or PRC entities or individuals. The imposition of the NSL by Beijing, significant curtailments in protected freedoms, and the reduction of the high degree of autonomy Hong Kong enjoyed in the past has raised concerns among a number of international firms operating in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is the United States’ twelfth-largest export market, thirteenth largest for total agricultural products, and sixth largest for high-value consumer food and beverage products. Hong Kong’s economy, with advanced institutions and regulatory systems, is bolstered by competitive sectors including financial and professional, trading, logistics, and tourism, although tourism has suffered devastating drops since 2020 due to COVID-19. The Hong Kong Government’s (HKG) adherence to a “Zero COVID” policy for most of the past two years has also imposed high economic costs on residents and businesses, and drastically reduced the number of visitors to the territory. Since Beijing’s 2020 imposition of the NSL on Hong Kong and the city’s implementation of COVID-19 travel restrictions, some international firms in Hong Kong have relocated entirely, while others have shifted key staff or operations elsewhere.

Hong Kong provides for no distinction in law or practice between investments by foreign-controlled companies and those controlled by local interests. Foreign firms and individuals can incorporate their operations in Hong Kong, register branches of foreign operations, and set up representative offices without encountering discrimination or undue regulation. There are no restrictions on the ownership of such operations. Company directors are not required to be residents of or in Hong Kong. Reporting requirements are straightforward and are not onerous. On economic issues, Hong Kong generally pursues a free market philosophy with minimal government intervention. The HKG generally welcomes foreign investment, neither offering special incentives nor imposing disincentives for foreign investors.

While Hong Kong’s legal system had been traditionally viewed as a bastion of judicial independence, authorities have placed considerable pressure on the judiciary over the previous year. Rule of law risks that were formerly limited to mainland China are now increasingly a concern in Hong Kong. In March 2020, two sitting UK judges resigned from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, with the UK government citing a systematic erosion of liberty and democracy that made it untenable for those judges to sit on Hong Kong’s highest court.

The service sector accounted for more than 90 percent of Hong Kong’s nearly USD 367 billion gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021. Hong Kong hosts a large number of regional headquarters and regional offices, though Hong Kong’s deteriorating political environment and COVID-related travel restrictions have led some firms to depart. The number of U.S. firms with regional bases in Hong Kong fell over the previous decade. Approximately 1,260 U.S. companies are based in Hong Kong, according to Hong Kong’s 2021 census data, with more than half regional in scope. Finance and related services companies, such as banks, law firms, and accountancies, dominate the pack. Seventy of the world’s 100 largest banks have operations in Hong Kong.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 12 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 14 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 92,487 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 48,630 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Hong Kong has several major HKG-owned enterprises classified as “statutory bodies.” Hong Kong is party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the WTO framework. Annex 3 of the GPA lists as statutory bodies the Housing Authority, the Hospital Authority, the Airport Authority, the Mass Transit Railway Corporation Limited, and the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, which procure in accordance with the agreement.

The HKG provides more than half the population with subsidized housing, along with most hospital and education services from childhood through the university level. The government also owns major business enterprises, including the stock exchange, railway, and airport.

Conflicts occasionally arise between the government’s roles as owner and policymaker. Industry observers have recommended that the government establish a separate entity to coordinate its ownership of government-held enterprises and initiate a transparent process of nomination to the boards of government-affiliated entities. Other recommendations from the private sector include establishing a clear separation between industrial policy and the government’s ownership function and minimizing exemptions of government-affiliated enterprises from general laws.

The Competition Law exempts all but six of the statutory bodies from the law’s purview. While the government’s private sector ownership interests do not materially impede competition in Hong Kong’s most important economic sectors, industry representatives have encouraged the government to adhere more closely to the Guidelines on Corporate Governance of State-owned Enterprises of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange adopts a higher standard of disclosure – ‘comply or explain’ – about its environmental key performance indicators for listed companies. Results of a consultation process to review its ESG reporting guidelines indicate strong support for enhancing the ESG reporting framework. It has implemented proposals from the consultation process since July 2020. Hong Kong is not a signatory of the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies. Under the Security Bureau, the Security and Guarding Services Industry Authority is responsible for formulating issuing criteria and conditions for security company licenses and security personnel permits and determining applications for security company licenses.

9. Corruption

Mainland China ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in January 2006, and it was extended to Hong Kong in February 2006. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is responsible for combating corruption and has helped Hong Kong develop a track record for combating corruption. U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI. A bribe to a foreign official is a criminal act, as is the giving or accepting of bribes, for both private individuals and government employees. Offenses are punishable by imprisonment and large fines.

The Hong Kong Ethics Development Center (HKEDC), established by the ICAC, promotes business and professional ethics to sustain a level-playing field in Hong Kong. The International Good Practice Guidance – Defining and Developing an Effective Code of Conduct for Organizations of the Professional Accountants in Business Committee published by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) and is in use with the permission of IFAC.

10. Political and Security Environment

Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law (NSL) on June 30, 2020 has introduced heightened uncertainties for companies operating in Hong Kong. As a result, U.S. citizens traveling through or residing in Hong Kong may be subject to increased levels of surveillance, as well as arbitrary enforcement of laws and detention for purposes other than maintaining law and order.

As of March 2022, police have carried out at least 160 arrests of opposition politicians and activists for alleged “national security” offenses, including one U.S. citizen, in an effort to suppress pro-democracy views and political activity in the city. Police have also reportedly issued arrest warrants under the NSL for at least thirty individuals residing abroad, including U.S. citizens. Since June 2019, police have arrested over 10,000 people on various charges in connection with largely peaceful protests against government policies.

Please see the July 16, 2021 business advisory issued by the Department of State, along with the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security, for a facts-based analysis of the risks for companies operating in Hong Kong.

As a result of Hong Kong’s decreased autonomy from China, the Department of Commerce removed many of the Department of Commerce’s License Exceptions. U.S. Customs and Borders Protection (CBP) requires goods produced in Hong Kong to be marked to show China, rather than Hong Kong, as their country of origin. This requirement took effect November 9, 2020. It does not affect country of origin determinations for purposes of assessing ordinary duties or temporary or additional duties. Hong Kong has requested World Trade Organization dispute consultations to examine the issue. As of March 2022, the Department of Treasury has sanctioned 42 Hong Kong and PRC officials for their role in undermining Hong Kong’s high-degree of autonomy as guaranteed by the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

The PRC government does not recognize dual nationality. In January 2021, the HKG moved to enforce existing provisions of the Nationality Law of the People’s Republic of China in place since 1997, effectively ending its longstanding recognition of dual citizenship in Hong Kong. The action ended consular access to two detained U.S. citizens as of March 2021 and potentially removed our ability to provide fulsome consular assistance to about half of the estimated 85,000 U.S. citizens then residing in Hong Kong. U.S.-PRC, U.S.-Hong Kong and U.S. citizens of Chinese heritage may be subject to additional scrutiny and harassment, and the mainland government may prevent the U.S. Embassy or U.S. consulate from providing consular services.

Hong Kong financial regulators have conducted outreach to stress the importance of robust anti-money laundering (AML) controls and highlight potential criminal sanctions implications for failure to fulfill legal obligations under local AML laws. However, Hong Kong has a low number of prosecutions and convictions compared to the number of cases investigated.

Under the President’s Executive Order on Hong Kong Normalization, the United States notified the Hong Kong authorities in August 2020 of its suspension of the Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Hong Kong for the Surrender of Fugitive Offenders and termination of the Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Hong Kong for the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. The United States also gave notice of its termination of the Agreement Concerning Tax Exemptions from the Income Derived from the International Operation of Ships. In response, the HKG notified the United States of its purported suspension of the Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Hong Kong on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Hong Kong’s unemployment rate stood at 3.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021. The labor participation rate for men was 65 percent, while that for women was 54 percent. In 2021, skilled personnel working as administrators, managers, professionals, and associate professionals accounted for about 40 percent of the total working population. At the end of 2021, there were about 321,900 foreign domestic helpers, overwhelmingly women, working in Hong Kong. In 2021, about 13,800 foreign professionals, including 1,129 from the United States, came to work in the city under the city’s General Employment Policy, a five percent year-on-year decrease. The Employees Retraining Board provides skills re-training for local employees. To address a shortage of highly skilled technical and financial professionals, the HKG seeks to attract qualified foreign and mainland Chinese workers.

The Employment Ordinance (EO) and the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance prohibit the termination of employment in certain circumstances: 1) Any pregnant employee who has at least four weeks’ service and who has served notice of her pregnancy; 2) Any employee who is on paid statutory sick leave and; 3) Any employee who gives evidence or information in connection with the enforcement of the EO or relating to any accident at work, cooperates in any investigation of his employer, is involved in trade union activity, or serves jury duty may not be dismissed because of those circumstances. Breach of these prohibitions is a criminal offense.

According to the EO, someone employed under a continuous contract for not less than 24 months is eligible for severance payment if: 1) dismissed by reason of redundancy; 2) under a fixed term employment contract that expires without being renewed due to redundancy; or 3) laid off.

Unemployment benefits are income- and asset-tested on an individual basis if living alone; if living with other family members, the total income and assets of all family members are taken into consideration for eligibility. Recipients must be between the ages of 15-59, capable of work, and actively seeking full-time employment.

Parties in a labor dispute can consult the free and voluntary conciliation service offered by the Labor Department (LD). A conciliation officer appointed by the LD will help parties reach a contractually binding settlement. If there is no settlement, parties can start proceedings with the Labor Tribunal (LT), which can then be raised to the Court of First Instance, and finally the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal. The Court of Appeal can grant leave only if the case concerns a question of law of general public importance.

Local law provides for the rights of association and of workers to establish and join organizations of their own choosing, but the HKG took repeated actions that contrary to the principle of union independence. As of 2020, Hong Kong’s 1,355 registered employee unions had 907,839 members, a participation rate of about 25.6 percent. In 2021, however, threats and pressure from HKG and mainland officials, as well as from mainland-supported media outlets, led many unions and their confederations to disband. This included the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, Hong Kong’s largest union, as well as the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, which included more than 80 unions from a variety of trades and had more than 100,000 members.

Hong Kong’s labor legislation is in line with its international law obligations. Hong Kong has implemented 41 conventions of the International Labor Organization in full, and 18 others with modifications. Workers who allege discrimination against unions have the right to a hearing by the Labor Relations Tribunal. Legislation protects the right to strike. Collective bargaining is not protected by Hong Kong law; there is no obligation to engage in it; and it is not widely used. For more information on labor regulations in Hong Kong, please visit the following website: http://www.labour.gov.hk/eng/legislat/contentA.htm (Chapter 57 “Employment Ordinance”).

The LT has the power to make an order for reinstatement or re-engagement without securing the employer’s approval if it deems an employee has been unreasonably and unlawfully dismissed. If the employer does not reinstate or re-engage the employee as required by the order, the employer must pay to the employee a sum amounting to three times the employee’s average monthly wages up to USD 9,300. The employer commits an offense if he/she willfully and without reasonable excuse fails to pay the additional sum.

Recent changes to benefits and minimum wage are detailed as follows; as of January 2019, male employees are entitled to five days’ paternity leave (increased from three days). Effective May 2019, the statutory minimum hourly wage rate increased from USD 4.4 to USD 4.8. As of December 2020, the statutory maternity leave increased to fourteen weeks from ten weeks.

In November 2021, about 300 couriers working for a food delivery company engaged in a two-day strike, demanding increases in pay and work conditions. The strike ended after the company pledged to increase workers’ pay and make changes to the way it treated workers.

In February 2022, the HKG amended the EO to address issues arising from the city’s COVID measures. The amendment stipulates that employees’ absence from work for the purpose of complying with the government’s COVID restrictions under the Prevention & Control of Disease Ordinance will be deemed as sickness days under the Employment Ordinance. Laying off an employee for complying with government’s COVID restriction would be an unreasonable dismissal. In addition, the amendment allows an employer to dismiss an employee for non-compliance with the vaccination requirement or failure to produce proof of having been vaccinated, by any of the COVID vaccines recognized by HKG, after the employer requests proof after a specified period of time.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2021 $366,874 2020 $346,586 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $46,103 2020 $92,487 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $19,705 2020 $16,547 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-
investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 536.6% 2020 539.1% UNCTAD data available at https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html 
 

* Source for Host Country Data: Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (2020, latest available data)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 1,840,307 100% Total Outward 1,909,128 100%
British Virgin Islands 582,103 32% China, P.R.: Mainland 903,641 47%
China, P.R.: Mainland 499,154 27% British Virgin Islands 603,218 32%
Cayman Islands 184,410 10% Cayman Islands 73,346 4%
United Kingdom 175,256 10% Bermuda 67,705 4%
Bermuda 104,295 6% Singapore 39,974 2%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

14. Contact for More Information

Eveline Tseng, Consul, Economic Affairs
U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau
26 Garden Road, Central

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