Hong Kong economic agency closes Miami office
By Suzy Valentine
Hong Kong's economic agency closed its Miami branch last month, observers say, because China no longer needs its help to broker deals in Latin America.
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council announced it had closed its Brickell Key office June 30 "to accommodate new demand... from emerging economies." Jacqueline Chow, a representative in the New York office that is to assume responsibility for the region, would not disclose which markets would become the focus. The council has two other US offices, in Chicago and Los Angeles.
A Chinese trade attorney based in Fort Lauderdale said he had asked the council's outgoing Miami president Winchell Cheung - who transfers to Frankfurt, Germany, on Monday - about the closure.
"There seemed to be two reasons," said Philip Guo of Becker & Poliakoff. "Firstly, there was a general policy to consolidate operations in the US. Also, the office, once a conduit, began to see more and more direct trade with Chinese operations, which seemed to minimize the importance of Hong Kong."
Mr. Guo said dependency on an intermediary had diminished during the past decade.
"In the beginning Chinese companies weren't as sophisticated," he said. "They needed help marketing, but in the past 10 years they have learned the techniques. Effectively, the Hong Kong office was a victim of its own success."
The executive director of the corporation that runs Miami Foreign Trade Zone agreed.
"The word on the street is that you can go directly to China," said Bill Rios of Wynwood Community Economic Development Corp. "You don't have to go through Hong Kong."
Mr. Rios said he is a month from signing a lease for 150,000 square feet in the zone. Though there are three interested parties, he said, a consortium of three companies from China and Hong Kong remains the frontrunner.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Miami-Dade County's Jay Malina International Trade Consortium said it wasn't the first time the Hong Kong Trade Development Council had withdrawn from Miami in its 17-year history.
"It has been closed before," said Walter Loy, chair and dean of the Sister Cities Coordinating Council, "so it may be resurrected."
One commentator on Far East trade said an order from headquarters isn't always indicative of the strength of a particular market.
"The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi pulled out of Miami a few years ago," said David Woodward, executive director of the Florida-China Association, "even though it was doing well and making money. The order came from the headquarters in Japan. It was a decision to consolidate."
But the balance of Hong Kong-to-China trade passing through the Port of Miami has shifted in the past two years. In the year ending Sept. 30, 2003, the former British territory accounted for four times as much trade as did mainland China. In the first five months of this year, China's trade with the port was double that of the Special Administrative Region.
Ms. Chow in the New York City office said, "There just wasn't much going on in Miami."