Brief Recollections of the HKTDC in its early days

HK Trade Development Council LogoThe Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC; Chinese: 香港貿易發展局) is a statutory body established in October 1966 as the international marketing arm for Hong Kong-based manufacturers, traders and service providers. The organisation currently has more than 40 offices around the world, including 11 on the Chinese mainland.
Neil Morris joined the HKTDC in October 1968 after two years as an admin officer in the Secretariat Finance branch. During the following years he had a wide range of jobs including  the TDC representative in Japan for two years, Paris for four and Panama for  a further one year. He left Hong Kong to return  to Europe in 1984.

By Neil Morris

I worked for the HKTDC for some 14 years in its early days (it was set up in October 1966). As a colony, HK had no network of diplomatic or commercial offices round the world, and TDC was structured as a non-government trade promotion body funded by a very small levy on exports and imports (except foodstuffs).  Our job was to bring together HK producers and overseas buyers; we did not ourselves negotiate or sell.

To help manufacturers and exporters sell overseas, TDC took display  space at major international trade fairs and developed its own formula of TDC-accompanied trade missions to major markets all over the world. In those early days a mission usually comprised about 60% trading firms and 40% manufacturers. The former were supposed to carry only HK-made goods, but the rule was of course unenforceable. A mission might visit three cities in two or three countries, spending one week in each.

HKTDC's Neil Morris and Austrian President Dr Franz Jonas at the Vienna International Trade Fair, September 1970.

HKTDC’s Neil Morris and Judith Yuen welcome Austrian President Dr Franz Jonas to the HK exhibition at the Vienna International Trade Fair, September 1970.

A businessman who signed up for a TDC mission would send in samples of the products he wanted to display. TDC undertook the logistics of the mission: packing & shipping the samples, travel arrangements, booking hotel rooms, function rooms, interpreters etc.

We would set up an exhibition in, say, a function room of the centrally-sited hotel we stayed in, and did mail shots to get importers and local manufacturers to come along.  We soon found that there was a conflict of interest between the traders, who wanted to collect visiting cards off as many visitors as possible, and the manufacturers, who rapidly realised that they didn’t want their existing customers to come in to the exhibition as they risked losing them to a trader or another manufacturer on the mission!

We found that many members on our early missions were on their first business trip outside HK; the TDC formula gave them a fairly painless introduction to international markets.

I have often wondered how HK balances its books now that there seems to be no industry left at all…In (I think) 2003, during a visit to Hong Kong to see my son Malcolm, I saw an advert in the SCMP which really brought me up short: a developer had placed an ad advising all and sundry that he was seeking permission to convert an industrial building in Tsuen Wan into a hotel for groups of mainland tourists coming to visit -of all things- HK’s new Disneyland park…  Thirty years before, sales of land designated for industrial buildings were always awaited with keen interest by developers and produced significant amounts of revenue for the government.

This article was first published in the Indhhk email Newsletter 9 sent out on 9th November 2013.

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