With Sweden’s new strategy for increased export prioritising China, frequent minister visits from back home, and the presence of Swedish companies still growing, combined with the Consul-General’s own goal to put her home country and some of its businesses on the Hong Kong map, makes Helena Storm’s role very busy and interesting indeed.
The Consulate General of Sweden to Hong Kong and Macau shares her experiences on the development and insights gained since she arrived to the vibrant metropolitan in the Far East in April 2015, her first posting here.
Previously Helena Storm was posted at the head office of Sweden’s Minister for Trade, where she says coordination with the embassies in Asia was an important part of the job.
Putting Swedish businesses on the map
Since coming over to Hong Kong there has basically been a constant flow of events and activities where the Consul-General has been seen and heard.
“I am happy to hear that you have noticed that,” Helena Storm answers in response to this. “One of my main goals coming to Hong Kong was to put Sweden and Swedish businesses on the map. We have a lot to be proud of in our country and I think we should be even better telling others how good and successful we are. There is of course knowledge about Sweden and Swedish companies in Hong Kong but sometimes I get the impression that representatives from Hong Kong are unaware of how well Swedish products and innovations perform. The Swedish brand stands for quality and trust – I would like everyone in Hong Kong to associate Sweden with these values.”
On of the activities she has brought back to life and that she considers a milestone activity since she arrived is the re-introduction of the Swedish National Day celebration.
“It’s the first time for over ten years that the Consulate General celebrates the Swedish National Day and I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback and encouragement both from the Swedish community and also from our Hong Kong friends. Therefore we have already decided we will celebrate the Swedish National Day in Hong Kong again next year and hopefully every year in the future.”
In focus for Team Sweden
When it comes to her role overall in a trade-focused place like Hong Kong, and the relation to the Embassy of Sweden in Beijing, Helena Storm refers to how the Swedish government’s new strategy (from 2015) to increase Swedish Exports where China is one of the prioritized countries, guides the work.
“The strategy includes 22 action points and one of these is to work closer together with Swedish actors in our respective regions and countries. I therefore work very closely with my colleagues in Beijing and Shanghai and together we form what we call Team Sweden China. When it comes to the sectors we are focusing on, it may differ a bit depending on the specific characteristics of Hong Kong. Here we have worked to promote Swedish innovations, smart cities solutions, Swedish food and agricultural products, design and other creative businesses as well as Swedish start-ups and entrepreneurship. We also put a lot of effort in promoting Swedish values such as transparency, freedom of speech and equal rights for all.”
In Hong Kong the Consul-General’s efforts benefit from very tight collaboration within Team Sweden locally: “I am almost in daily contact with Business Sweden in Hong Kong. We work very closely and carry out a number of common projects. In addition to the Team Sweden China network, we also have a local Team Sweden Hong Kong including Business Sweden as well as the Swedish Chamber of Commerce as key partners. We have monthly meetings to go through our respective activities and see how we can find synergies in order to promote Sweden and Swedish business in Hong Kong.”
She also comments on the very fact that the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong celebrates 30 years in 2016: “SwedCham HK is a dynamic and important platform for Swedish businesses, from large corporations to start-ups as well as for individuals. The chamber promotes members’ interests to various decision-makers in Hong Kong and provides a forum for members to exchange experiences and ideas. There is also possibility for members to engage in various creative and business-oriented committees. The fact that the Swedish chamber has been present in Hong Kong since 1986 and grown from 40 companies to today’s 180 companies is quite impressive. It is also at present the 4th largest of all Swedish chambers abroad. Together with the Consulate General of Sweden and Business Sweden, the chamber plays an important role for the whole Swedish community here in Hong Kong – and we warmly congratulate them to their 30 years of presence and look forward to yet another 30 years of growth!”
Hong Kong as regional gateway
The number of Swedish companies continues to grow, however the trend is now that new entries mainly consist in smaller high-tech companies, the Consul-General has noticed.
“For many Swedish companies, the Hong Kong office acts as regional headquarters to manage business in the APAC-region. The two most important reasons for Swedish companies to locate in Hong Kong are the city’s geographical location and function as gateway to China. The average time for Swedish companies to have been present in Hong Kong is around 15 years, indicating that Hong Kong is a stable base for regional business. However, we see that several Swedish companies tend to keep their organisation in Hong Kong lean with limited number of key positions and rather growing their APAC operation through local presence on their respective markets of interest. Locally, there is still growth within Swedish business and trade, however at a slower pace compared to a few years ago, mainly due to slowing down of the mainland China economy.”
At the same time as Hong Kong’s role as the gateway to and from China is diminishing, the PRC matures, the number of foreign companies present in Hong Kong have never been as high as now, notes Helena Storm in terms of the development of its economy.
However, every aspect is currently not rosy.
“With one of the most beneficial tax systems, business climate and geographical positions in the region, Hong Kong continues to act as a hub for regional operations. However, there is some concern of Hong Kong’s future position after the political instability in 2014/2015, and being named a tax haven by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, as well as the increasing costs of operating business and difficulties for small businesses to open bank accounts in Hong Kong.”
But Hong Kong is determined to maintain and strengthen its hub position and competitive edge: “Commitments by the Hong Kong SAR government include further enhancing ease of doing business by simplifying legal framework, tax incentives and improving infrastructure. Efforts have also been made to ensure access to skilled workforce, by different migration schemes and increased support for education, as well as affordable office and housing space. Hong Kong also has close ties with important APAC markets through Free Trade Agreements and Double Taxation Agreements.”
Knowledge-based economic development
China is probably ahead, when it comes to Hong Kong’s development of an ecosystem for innovation and start-ups, evaluates the Swedish Consulate General. The reason behind this is that as the traditional four pillar industries (financial services, trading and logistics, tourism, and producer and professional services) have served the economy in Hong Kong well it has previously not been able to broaden its economic base through investments in innovation and technology.
“Commitment by Chinese leaders to develop Chinas innovation ecosystem since the 1990s has enabled it to outpace Hong Kong by a wide margin. For example, Shenzhen is a home to the mainland’s online service conglomerates and is becoming a booming centre for tech R&D as well.”
“The Hong Kong SAR Government have realised the need to diversify the economy and is thus determined to develop Hong Kong into a knowledge-based economy and an innovation hub for technology and its application in the region. The 2016-17 budget has committed over HK$18 billion to formulate a series of initiatives with a view to foster Innovation & Technology development in Hong Kong from multiple aspects.”
Hong Kong’s gross domestic expenditure on R&D increased from $7.1 billion in 2001 to $15.6 billion in 2013, an average annual growth of 7%.
“We have also seen increased interest for Hong Kong from foreign research institutions. The establishment of the Hong Kong MIT Innovation Node and Karolinska Institutet that opened its first overseas research centre at the Hong Kong Science Park are examples of this. Hong Kong ranks among top five in the APAC region regarding innovation and fastest growing start-up ecosystem. “
Strong FinTech potential
Another interesting area for Sweden to pay attention to is FinTech.
“With Hong Kong placed at the heart of APAC and with the world’s freest economy and top business climate, there is potential for Hong Kong to climb before Singapore as the premier regional FinTech hub. The HKMA will set up a FinTech Innovation Hub and has launched the FinTech Supervisory Sandbox, two initiatives aimed at spurring banks to embrace technology to make financial transactions safer, speedier and more convenient for consumers.”
“Hong Kong has important advantage with the access to Mainland China,” she continues, “and the clustering of local, mainland and overseas FinTech talents and start-ups have potential to create a vibrant Hong Kong FinTech sector. Alongside the local innovators, about 50 of the top 100 Fintech companies in the world operate out of Hong Kong.”
“Hong Kong is also undertaking efforts to become the “super-connector” between the Mainland of China and the rest of the world in areas such as finance, investment, professional services, trade, logistics, culture, creativity, innovation and technology under the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative.
In relation to Swedish design, that has been making good inroads in recent years, she describes Hong Kong as a regional design centre providing a rich source of innovative products and design talents.
“It is at the crossroads of Asia, and is a key gateway to the Chinese mainland. As a step to diversify the economy, six focus industries were introduced in 2009 to propel Hong Kong towards a knowledge-based economy. Among of these industries were the cultural and creative that have been among the fastest growing sectors. The software, computer games and interactive media have all along been the dominant component in the creative industries but the design sector has experienced a strong growth, with value added growing from 1 billion HKD in 2005, to 4 billion HKD in 2014. The biggest export market for Hong Kong’s design services is mainland China and Hong Kong’s design industry is expected to keep growing with the strong Governmental support and increasing demand from Mainland China.”
Hopes for high-level Swedish visits
When asked to summarise her time so far in Hong Kong Helena Storm describes it not exactly as a 9 to 5 job: “Being a Consul General in Hong Kong means that you are working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, if needed. I should be able to represent Sweden in all its facets, whether it is economics, business, culture, science, sports and politics – it is not always an easy task, especially in a city that never sleeps. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is that as a Consul General I have the honour of meeting many interesting people, from both Sweden and Hong Kong, and hopefully I can contribute to further exchange between these people and bring our two societies even closer. Since I arrived we have had three Swedish Ministers visiting Hong Kong and a dozen of other business delegations.”
What is in store in 2017 for Sweden in Hong Kong she promises it to be a very active year.
“We hope we will have several high level visits and are planning a major event by the end of 2017. It is still at a very early stage so I choose not to say more presently. But before the end of this year one of Sweden’s most important days, Santa Lucia will be highlighted; here becoming a tribute to the Swedish community in Hong Kong and a celebration of the friendship and strong links between Hong Kong and Sweden. We also recently took part in Hong Kong Pride, to stand up for equal rights for all, and for the first time ever hosted our own Pride event. To promote Swedish creative companies and design during Business of Design Week BODW is also one of our priorities left to tick of this year.“
“I advise you to stay tuned on the Consulate’s Facebook page where we announce and report on the main events we are involved in.”
Photos: Consulate General of Sweden to Hong Kong and Macau