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Marking opportunity with each downturn

by Robert Dorfman
Mr. Robert Dorfman is on the Executive Committee of the Shippers' Council, representing the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce. He is Chairman of the Council's Publications Sub-Committee. Mr Dorfman is a Director of Herald Holdings Ltd, a publicly listed industrial group manufacturing toys, timepieces, cookware and computer components. He also serves as Chairman of the Vision 2047 Foundation, a private non-profit organisation created to enhance understanding of Hong Kong overseas and to promote debate here on issues affecting Hong Kong's future.

Hong Kong is going through a particularly difficult period-one filled with self-doubt and apprehension about the future. The economic slowdown in our main markets has severely impacted exports and order books are weak. The dynamism that has for so long characterized the Hong Kong spirit seems, somehow, sadly lacking.

In spite of all this, I am both optimistic and confident of our future. This is a dynamic city that aspires to world-class status-a city that has an infrastructure like no other city in the Asia Pacific region. It has the brainpower-both in the private and public sector-to recognize the need for change and adaptability. Ultimately our greatest asset is China. No one knows and understands the full potential of China like the people of Hong Kong. We have been the engine driving the process of development in Southern China over the last 20 years. Now, we have extended our reach to other parts of China that are less developed and in need of economic stimulus.

Here in Hong Kong, we have recognized the need to prepare our youth for the challenges that lie ahead. The Business Coalition on Education, a private sector initiative, is identifying the skills that future generations will need to meet the requirements of a knowledge-based economy.

Environmentally, we have taken a major step forward by switching public transportation to LPG. Our transparent legal system, free and vibrant press, and free flow of information continues to give us a strong, competitive advantage over other regional centres. We need to remember the difficult and challenging times in the past that allowed the emergence of some of our most talented business leaders. These were people who saw the 1967 riots as OPPORTUNITY, who saw economic downturns in 1973, 1983 and 1987 as OPPORTUNITY.

In the immediate future, as exporters, we will need to adjust to smaller orders, tighter margins and shorter leadtimes. From all these will emerge stronger, more tightly and efficiently managed businesses, well-prepared to take advantage of the 21st century's greatest opportunity, that is, China.