Commitments by the Legal Sector in FTAs

Articles 114 and 115 of the Hong Kong Basic Law provides that Hong Kong shall maintain the status of a free port, pursue the policy of free trade and safeguard the free movement of goods and capital. Article 116 further provides that Hong Kong shall be a separate customs territory, and may, on its own, using the name “Hong Kong, China”, maintain and develop relations and conclude and implement agreements with foreign states and regions or international organisations in the appropriate fields.

Pursuant to these provisions, the Hong Kong Government has been promoting a free, open and stable multilateral trading system as well as exploring opportunities to secure, maintain and improve market access for Hong Kong’s exports.

Hong Kong has been a member of the World Trade Organisation (‘WTO’) since its establishment in 1995. Article 116 of the Basic Law provides the basis for Hong Kong to continue to maintain its separate WTO membership after 1997 using the name “Hong Kong, China”.

Free trade agreements (‘FTAs’) with Hong Kong’s trading partners is a way to secure favourable conditions for exports of goods and services from Hong Kong to the Mainland and international markets.

Hong Kong has signed six FTAs, respectively with Mainland China (June 2003), New Zealand (March 2010), the Member States of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) (June 2011), Chile (September 2012), Macao (October 2017) and the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) (November 2017). Hong Kong is now negotiating FTAs respectively with Georgia, Maldives and Australia.

The FTA negotiation with Georgia and Maldives were launched in May 2016. Both are emerging markets. Entering into FTAs with them is expected to help further expand Hong Kong’s FTA network into regions including Eurasia.

One year later in May 2017, the FTA negotiation between Hong Kong and Australia was also officially launched. Australia was Hong Kong’s 19th largest trading partner while Hong Kong was Australia’s 13th largest trading partner in 2016. Both have a heavily service-oriented economy. Better market access for trade in services was featured as a key element of the negotiation.

As stated publicly on the official website of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department of the Australian Government, its objectives in the FTA negotiation with Hong Kong are, among others, to create conditions for greater trade in services by locking in market openness for continued access to the Hong Kong market and providing new commercial opportunities for service suppliers; to reduce or remove local presence requirements and to ensure internal regulations, recognition of qualifications, licensing, or registration, and other related measures are not disguised restrictions on trade in services and information about them is publicly available, to the extent possible.

The Law Society has been invited to give views on locking the current level of market openness for access by overseas lawyers to the Hong Kong legal service market and committing not to introduce any trade restrictive measures that are incompatible with the existing level of openness in the future unless specific reservations have been made. Before responding, the Law Society will gauge the views of the profession via a survey. If members have views, please respond to the survey. Further, in the President’s Message of the March 2018 issue of Hong Kong Lawyer titled “An open regulatory regime for foreign lawyers”, views have also been invited from members on the operation of the foreign lawyer regulatory regime in Hong Kong. Your views are welcome as they are most valuable in formulating the Law Society’s position.

Market access is two-way. It covers not only access to the Hong Kong legal service market by overseas lawyers but also access to overseas market by Hong Kong lawyers. If our members have encountered any specific market access or practice challenges in any particular jurisdictions including regulatory issues, customs procedures or cross-border supply of services, you are most welcome to let us know. All these practical experiences and specific case examples are very helpful in illustrating the areas that the relevant authorities will need to work on.

Jurisdictions: 

Secretary-General, Law Society of Hong Kong