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Financial Secretary


With recovery in sight, let’s go forward

I attended the awards presentation ceremony of the "25th Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon" this morning. Witnessing the moment when participants strived to cross the finish line with the cheers by supporters nearby, one could really feel their vitality and passion, as well as the solidarity of all. As runners met and competed with each other again, it was a precious opportunity to build friendship as well as challenge themselves.

This event is the first territory-wide large-scale sports event in 2023. This year, many mega events, sports competitions, large-scale exhibitions and international fora and summits of different themes will be held in Hong Kong, one after another. For March alone, there are the Hong Kong Sevens, Hong Kong Disneyland 10K Weekend 2023 running event, Clockenflap Music & Arts Festival, Art Central, etc., to which we all look forward.

I attended the awards presentation ceremony of the “25th Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon” this morning, and felt the vitality and passion of the participants!
I attended the awards presentation ceremony of the “25th Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon” this morning, and felt the vitality and passion of the participants!

The coming back of mega events is important to Hong Kong at multiple levels. On the one hand, it showcases to the world that Hong Kong has fully returned to normalcy, and the society and the economy have walked out of the woods of the pandemic. Moreover, our mega events have many loyal fans and staunch supporters around the word, and such events will help attract more visitors from the Mainland and overseas to Hong Kong, benefitting various industries including tourism, hotel, retail, catering, etc. On the other hand, where the normal lives of our residents had been disrupted over the past three years of the pandemic, organising mega events again would allow them to take part in and enjoy such events. Looking forward, Hong Kong is going to stage and attract more mega events, to the enjoyment of both local residents and visitors.

Some people say that in the past three years, Hong Kong has run a “marathon” or gone through a “stress test”. We have endured an economic downturn which posed challenges to people’s livelihoods, and firmly maintained the stability of the financial system and the society at large. As of now, the economy has been steadily recovering, and the unemployment rate has fallen gradually to a relatively low level. The latest unemployment rate will be released next week, and continuous improvement is anticipated. Yet, many sectors are still facing recruitment difficulties, which need to be dealt with proactively and promptly.

Equally important is that the economy, society, businesses and individuals all need to rest and catch a breath after the previous period of downturn, just as runners need to relax and stretch after a long-distance run to allow their bodies to adjust and recover. We are convinced that after going through stress, exercise and proper rest, the society and the economy will achieve “supercompensation” just like the human body would, and become more resilient and powerful, thus bringing overall performance to new heights.

In fact, our economy, various sectors, businesses and individuals have already made many adjustments after undergoing stress for over three years. Every recovery has a process; development has its stages. We are now gradually moving forward with brighter prospects and better momentum.

The number of visitors to Hong Kong has been increasing steadily since the full resumption of convenient travel with the Mainland and the world earlier this month. But it is still quite far behind from what it was before the pandemic. It is expected that the tourism, retail, catering, transport and logistics, and other sectors will gradually pick up growth as the society returns to normalcy.

Figures from the Census and Statistics Department indicates that the retail sector saw some improvements towards the end of last year, and the catering sector was also doing better as reflected by the latest figures. Total restaurant receipts in December last year, released earlier this month, rose to nearly $9 billion, representing a 1.5% year-on-year increase. It is the third consecutive month of growth and a reversal of the previous eight months’ decline. In dollar terms, this was the highest amount of total restaurant receipts in the month of December in three years. As we return to normalcy, with local consumption recovering and visitor arrivals rising, restaurant receipts will surely improve further. Individual months are likely to see total receipts going back to the $10 billion level. For example, in 2018 when the market was buoyant, restaurant receipts exceeded $10 billion in five months of that year.

It is worth exploring how to help our catering sector to achieve breakthrough while it recovers and gains more business.

Hong Kong is a culinary capital, bringing together fresh food and master chefs from all over the world. We offer fine wine pairing and quality dining experiences; delicious Eastern and Western cuisines as well as local street food; and much more. In such a tiny place as Hong Kong, there are more than 200 restaurants recommended by Michelin. What can be expected in the time to come are the increasing local consumption demand and the return of tourists; more and better food supply thanks to the full resumption of transport and logistics; more frequent exchanges on cooking, etc. With all these and our passion for gourmet, infinite creativity and willingness to try new things, the culinary capital of Hong Kong will be enriched in substance and eye further developments.

As many other sectors are gradually recovering from the downturn, we hope that different industries will embrace the acceleration of quality development in the future. How to bring products and services closer to the needs of consumers, or even lead and create new consumer demand; and how to make the best use of digitalisation to enhance operating efficiency and identify consumer preferences more aptly, etc., are all important issues to be considered in enhancing the competitiveness of enterprises.

The Budget for 2023-24 will be announced in less than two weeks’ time. My colleagues and I are now working hard to finalise the content of the Budget. Preparing for the Budget has always been a challenging task, though the nature of and circumstances giving rise to challenges each year are not quite the same. This year, in the face of a volatile economy with its recovery momentum still in need of consolidation, our challenge is seeking to safeguard people’s livelihood, stabilise the economy, create impetus for growth and make plans for the future on the one hand, while maintaining fiscal discipline and sustainability of public finances on the other. To achieve that, we need to be innovative and strike the right balance. I hope that the upcoming Budget will lay solid groundwork and provide steer for the recovery of Hong Kong. It is also our hope that, by investing in the future, Hong Kong will have greater room for development and be in a better position to leverage on the national development strategy as well as the great and promising prospects of our country.

February 12, 2023

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