An envoy's thoughts as he prepares to leave Hong Kong

July 06, 2018 09:03
Peter Ryan, who is set to leave Hong Kong after a four-year stint as Ireland's Consul-General in the city, welcomes the increased interest from Hong Kong people and businesses in Ireland and in Dublin. Photo: YouTube

Departing Irish envoy Peter Ryan praises Hong Kong for its investment environment, but says the territory can make it even better by simplifying rules and regulations.

Ryan is leaving Hong Kong this month after four years as Ireland's first Consul-General here. He is moving to Wellington to set up Ireland's first embassy in New Zealand.

"Hong Kong is perfect as a center for the Asia-Pacific region and the Greater Bay Area, with the rule of law, wide use of English and a straightforward way to do business. We were able to get the Consulate General up and running very quickly in 2014,” he said.

"But the administration could make it easier, especially for small and medium-size firms. Some rules, regulations and standards are too complex, such as labeling for food,” Ryan said.

The island of Ireland has a population of six million people but can produce enough food for 50 million. "Hong Kong is a natural hub for the export of Irish food and drink products. It has become the wine center for Asia-Pacific through innovative policies to handle wine. It is very easy to trade.

"But it imposes a 100 percent duty on Irish whiskey and demands a certificate of age. This is unnecessary and not in keeping with the open policy. Why is whiskey treated differently to wine?” he said.

In the mid-19th century, Irish whiskey was the most popular spirit in the world and “Scotch” was almost unknown outside Scotland. “Whiskey” comes from the Irish word “uisce beatha” (water of life). Then the industry went into decline and Scotch replaced it as the global leader. Since 1990, however, Irish whiskey has been the fastest growing spirit in the world, with exports increasing 15 percent a year. Ireland has 18 distilleries in operation, with a further 16 in the planning stage.

There are 5,000 Irish citizens in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China, there are 85 Irish companies employing 10,000 people.

"The HK Trade Development Council and InvestHK have been aggressively courting Irish investment and trade," said Ryan.

At the end of May, Hong Kong's financial secretary, Paul Chan Mo-po, went to Dublin and met officials from Enterprise Ireland and some of its key fintech clients, including Fexco, Know Your Customer, Corlytics, CurrencyFair, Transfermate and Daon with a view to attracting more Irish firms in fintech and aircraft leasing.

More than 20 Irish fintech companies now use Hong Kong as a gateway to mainland China and Asia’s other fast-growing markets. They have contracts with companies here such as HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of China as well as the Securities and Futures Commission.

On June 2, Cathay Pacific began a four-times-a-week direct flight between Hong Kong and Dublin; it is the first from Ireland’s capital to an Asian city.

"This has put a greater focus on Hong Kong in Ireland,” said Ryan. "Hong Kong has stolen a march on other cities in the Asia-Pacific Region. It has increased opportunities across the board, in business, cultural exchange, tourism and the flow of students and young people.”

He welcomed the increased interest from Hong Kong people and businesses in Ireland and in Dublin. “Of the city’s population, 25 percent was born overseas. And, of the working population, 30 percent was born overseas. We welcome diversity. We were the first country to approve same-sex marriage in a referendum,” the envoy noted.

Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister), is gay and half-Indian, the son of an Indian doctor and an Irish nurse.

"The investment environment is similar to that of Hong Kong – simple rules and regulations, rule of law and English-speaking. It is the ideal place from which to export to the 600 million people in the market of the European Union,” Ryan said.

Asked for his most profound moments in Hong Kong, he said that they came while meeting the Irish priests and nuns who have served here for their whole lives, mainly in education. "They were very humble, accepted no praise for themselves and deflected attention to others.

"When I arrived in August 2014 and met members of LegCo and ExCo, their eyes lit up when they told me of their Irish teachers.

"One of the most moving moments of my life came in meeting Father Joseph Mallin,” Ryan said. A Jesuit priest, Mallin died on Easter Sunday this year in Hong Kong, aged 104. He was the oldest Irish priest in the world.

He arrived in Hong Kong in 1948 and served here until he was 100. He worked as the bursar of the Jesuit mission, director of a social center, secondary school teacher, headmaster of a primary school and principal of Ricci College and of a kindergarten in Macau.

"Father Mallin exemplified all these virtues of self-sacrifice and devotion to others. He talked not of himself but of the people of Hong Kong and China. He had a ready smile and shared many stories from his eventful life. He was older than the Republic of Ireland (set up in 1922) and had a personal perspective on the revolutionary period of Ireland’s history. It was a great honor to meet him and I will treasure the memories of spending time with him,” said Ryan.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.