India’s market cannot be ignored by China: Hong Kong official

New Delhi, Dec 20 (IANS) India is a very large market that cannot be ignored, more so in a context of slowdown affecting the developed world, a senior Chinese trade official said on Tuesday.

“India is a large market that cannot be ignored at this point. The US economy is partially stabilising, while Europe is on a downturn and China’s exports to Europe have been declining,” Peter Wong, Regional Director – Southeast Asia and India of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, said here on the sidelines of their Lifestyle Expo of companies from Hong Kong.

“Things have now become more uncertain with US President-elect Donald Trump, who has been turning America protectionist. Brexit (British vote to quit EU) has been another damaging factor,” he said.

The Chinese official said there were also internal factors that were resulting in a shift in China’s economic orientation away from the US and Europe towards Asia.

“Labour costs are going up in China and a lot manufacturers have been shifting to South East Asia. India, too, is an attractive proposition in this regard with its cheaper and skilled manpower,” he said.

“The Hong Kong Trade Development Council will also shift focus towards ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Asia and the Middle East,” Wong, who is based in Thai capital Bangkok, said.

The HKTDC official said Hong Kong’s trade with India, its seventh largest trade partner, in the first three quarters of the current fiscal was worth $11 billion, reflecting steady growth over the same period last year.

In this connection Wong referred to the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative which has become the centrepiece of China’s economic diplomacy. OBOR, which refers to the proposed Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road, essentially aims to promote regional and cross-continental connectivity between China and Eurasia.

“Perhaps some countries in the region feel somewhat insecure and apprehensive about the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. But it is a win-win situation both for China and for the countries concerned because in order to promote regional trade and connectivity, this project will help finance infrastructure in the various countries,” Wong said.

He said China is keen that India be involved in the project.

“With this (OBOR) in mind, China will shift focus to Asia and Southeast Asia,” he said.

“In terms of political stability, India is a better prospect than Southeast Asia, where anything might happen,” said Andrew Tsang, Business Development Director of Celex LED Technology that is exhibiting at the event. He pointed to China’s current troubles with some Southeast Asian nations on maritime issues as well as past instances of ethnic hostility towards Chinese-origin people in some countries of the region.

Another member of the business delegation Andy Lee, Managing Director of Star Express Asia Ltd, said he was “amazed at the response of Indian business” to the Lifestyle Expo. He said he found the Indian visitors more serious and well prepared as compared to his recent experience in Dubai.

“I find the Indian business people here quite well prepared with things like import licences and online selling platforms. I am not just eyeing the Indian market, but also want Indian partners to help sell products in Africa and the Middle East. Indian have better language skills,” he said.