The Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong traces its roots to 1977, when a small and loosely organized business association came into being. The following excerpts from the January-February 1997 issue of Canada Hong Kong Business magazine tell the story of our development.
The Early Years
In 1977, the fledgling Canadian Businessmen's Association was running along rather informal lines, conducting committee meetings in the Hong Kong Club while its administrative presence comprised of two desks, graciously provided by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Line. It was also the year that China opened itself to the world, and Canada realized that its future lay in joining the Pacific rim community. That year, for the first time, more immigrants arrived in Canada from Asia than from Europe, and more Canadian trade crossed the Pacific than the Atlantic.
It was then that Ed Rubin, one of the Chamber's founding members and its later President (81/82 and 86/87), sent a circular to members asking what activities they would like to see, and what direction their group should take. "The response was pretty direct and no-nonsense," he recalls. "It was time to shift the focus from a social club to a trade and business group, the kernel of today's Chamber.
"For the founding dozen of us, those were pretty exciting times. I came to Hong Kong for the first time, expecting to spend three to four weeks here setting up a branch of my law firm after living in Paris. A partner there told me mournfully that once I'd tasted Hong Kong, I'd never return, and he was right."
Those were the days when the first pulses of drive, excitement and energy that characterize our territory today were gathering momentum. The Euro-dollar lending was beginning, huge mounds of petrodollars were demanding recycling and many banks were setting up in Hong Kong as the entry point for regional finance.
"At that time, and very much today and tomorrow for that matter, there was no alternative to this place as a base," says Rubin. "The British rule of law, credible and sensible regulations governing finance and the movement of money made the place irresistible. And the underlying infrastructure was sound too. I had a personal interest in Hong Kong as I had worked for then Prime Minister Trudeau in 1969/70 when Canada recognized the PRC diplomatically.
"Yes, 20 years ago I remember a water buffalo blocking the main road in Yuen Long, Those days have gone, replaced by a greater professionalism, but the energy, drive and potential will remain for the next 60 to 70 years, in my view," says Rubin. "While I look forward to immense growth in China and the region as a whole, I cannot see that this can be anything but positive for Hong Kong. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say."
Another stalwart Chamber supporter since its beginning, John Henderson is equally proud of how far Canadian relations and the Chamber have come over the past twenty years.
"It was in 1985 that we began a serious program of speakers, attracting visiting dignitaries and politicians to address the Chamber," says Henderson. "By the mid 1980s, we had some 500 members and we've continued to grow at an acceptably rapid rate ever since. There are about 150,000 Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong today. The relations between Hong Kong and Canada are excellent and our Chamber is an influential voice in the community."