Business relief plan to dip into reserves

Top News | Sophie Hui 4 Dec 2019

The fourth batch of relief measures will soon be launched, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says, as violence has "poured cold water on economic recovery."

This comes after the government said the total retail sales in October fell to HK$30.1 billion, down 24.3 percent on the same month last year - the biggest drop on record.

The current 3.1 percent unemployment rate is also expected to go up, Lam said before the weekly Executive Council meeting yesterday.

As the government expects a budget deficit in the next year or two, Lam said it will make use of accumulated fiscal reserves for the relief measures.

The government has used around HK$20 billion in the previous three rounds of relief measures launched in August, September and October, Lam said.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po will announce the details of the fourth round shortly, she added.

"We will target businesses and sectors that are having difficulties and offer them relief," Lam said.

She said the passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act by the US Congress - which was signed into law by President Donald trump - has created "an unstable environment" in the SAR and affected business confidence.

Hong Kong will cooperate as usual with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over sanctions against some nongovernment organizations and the suspension of US warship visits to Hong Kong, she said.

Lam said companies worry what actions the US government will take in the future through the new law and that chambers of commerce had opposed the bill for this reason.

She said the act will harm US companies in Hong Kong, which number at least 1,300, many of which have their regional headquarters here.

The act was unnecessary and unreasonable, she said.

"Hong Kong's human rights and freedom are protected by the Basic Law. In fact, I want to ask: which aspect of Hong Kong residents' freedoms was eroded?" Lam said.

"We have press freedom, we have freedom to participate in rallies and marches. We have religious freedom. We have a high degree of freedom in many aspects."

Lam said the resumption of violence after a pause during the district council election has dampened hopes for economic recovery.

She said many people had hoped that the peace right before and after the election would last. But road blockages, arson and petrol bombs appeared again in Kowloon over the weekend.

She said Hong Kong is facing both external and internal challenges, including the Sino-US trade war and the unstable external economy, as well as the social unrest in the city which has lasted almost half a year.

"We have repeatedly seen the violent scenes which everyone do not wish to see. We hope there is a way to stop this kind of violence and to let our economy have a chance to recover, but now cold water has been poured on it again," Lam said.

"I hope this kind of violent behavior can stop as soon as possible."

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