Transparency of the Regulatory System
Hong Kong’s regulations and policies typically strive to avoid distortions or impediments to the efficient mobilization and allocation of capital and to encourage competition. Bureaucratic procedures and “red tape” are transparent and held to a minimum.
In amending or making any legislation, including investment laws, the HKG conducts a three-month public consultation on the issue concerned which then informs the drafting of the bill. Lawmakers discuss draft bills and then vote. Hong Kong’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.
Gazette is the official publication of the Hong Kong government. This website https://www.gld.gov.hk/egazette/english/whatsnew/whatsnew.html is the centralized online location where laws, regulations, draft bills, notices and tenders are published. All public comments received by the HKG are published at the websites of relevant policy bureaus.
The Office of the Ombudsman, established in 1989 by the Ombudsman Ordinance, is Hong Kong’s independent watchdog of public governance.
Public finances are regulated by clear laws and regulations. The Basic Law prescribes that authorities strive to achieve a fiscal balance and avoid deficits. There is a clear commitment by the HKG to publish fiscal information under the Audit Ordinance and the Public Finance Ordinance, which prescribe deadlines for the publication of annual accounts and require the submission of annual spending estimates to the Legislative Council (LegCo). There are few contingent liabilities of the HKG, with details of these items published about seven months after the release of the fiscal budget. In addition, LegCo members have a responsibility to enhance budgetary transparency by urging government officials to explain the government’s rationale for the allocation of resources. All LegCo meetings are open to the public so that the government’s responses are available to the general public.
International Regulatory Considerations
Hong Kong is a member of WTO and Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), adopting international norms. It notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade and was the first WTO member to ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). Hong Kong has achieved a 100 percent rate of implementation commitments.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Hong Kong’s common law system is based on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and they are adjudicated in the court system.
Hong Kong’s commercial law covers a wide range of issues related to doing business. Most of Hong Kong’s contract law is found in the reported decisions of the courts in Hong Kong and other common law jurisdictions.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Hong Kong’s extensive body of commercial and company law generally follows that of the United Kingdom, including the common law and rules of equity. Most statutory law is made locally. The local court system, which is independent of the government, provides for effective enforcement of contracts, dispute settlement, and protection of rights. Foreign and domestic companies register under the same rules and are subject to the same set of business regulations.
The Hong Kong Code on Takeovers and Mergers (1981) sets out general principles for acceptable standards of commercial behavior.
The Companies Ordinance (Chapter 622) applies to Hong Kong-incorporated companies and contains the statutory provisions governing compulsory acquisitions. For companies incorporated in jurisdictions other than Hong Kong, relevant local company laws apply. Effective from March 2018, the Companies Ordinance requires companies to retain information about significant controllers accurate and up-to-date.
The Securities and Futures Ordinance (Chapter 571) contains provisions requiring shareholders to disclose interests in securities in listed companies and provides listed companies with the power to investigate ownership of interests in its shares. It regulates the disclosure of inside information by listed companies and restricts insider dealing and other market misconduct.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The independent Competition Commission (CC) investigates anti-competitive conduct that prevents, restricts, or distorts competition in Hong Kong. In January 2019, a newly-established Hong Kong Seaport Alliance (HKSA) announced that they had agreed to operate and manage 23 berths, a reported market share of 95 percent, across eight terminals at Kwai Tsing Container Terminal in a bid to deliver more efficient services to carriers and enhance the overall port’s competitiveness. The CC subsequently launched, as a matter of priority, a probe into whether the HKSA acted in contravention of competition rules. The investigation is still underway.
Expropriation and Compensation
The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any expropriations in the recent past. Expropriation of private property in Hong Kong may occur if it is clearly in the public interest and only for well-defined purposes such as implementation of public works projects. Expropriations are to be conducted through negotiations, in a non-discriminatory manner in accordance with established principles of international law. Investors in and lenders to expropriated entities are to receive prompt, adequate, and effective compensation. If agreement cannot be reached on the amount payable, either party can refer the claim to the Land Tribunal.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
The Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) apply to Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s Arbitration Ordinance provides for enforcement of awards under the 1958 New York Convention.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any investor-state disputes in recent years involving U.S. or other foreign investors or contractors and the HKG. Private investment disputes are normally handled in the courts or via private mediation. Alternatively, disputes may be referred to the Hong Kong International Arbitration Center.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The HKG accepts international arbitration of investment disputes between itself and investors and has adopted the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law model law for domestic and international commercial arbitration. It has with Mainland China a Memorandum of Understanding modelled on the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) for reciprocal enforcement of arbitral awards.
Under Hong Kong’s Arbitration Ordinance emergency relief granted by an emergency arbitrator before the establishment of an arbitral tribunal, whether in or outside Hong Kong, is enforceable. In January 2018, the Arbitration Ordinance clarified that all disputes over intellectual property rights may be resolved by arbitration.
The Mediation Ordinance details the rights and obligations of participants in mediation, especially related to confidentiality and admissibility of mediation communications in evidence.
Third party funding for arbitration and mediation came into force on February 1, 2019.
Foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters may be enforced in Hong Kong by common law or under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance, which facilitates reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments on the basis of reciprocity. A judgment originating from a jurisdiction that does not recognize a Hong Kong judgment may still be recognized and enforced by the Hong Kong courts, provided that all the relevant requirements of common law are met. However, a judgment will not be enforced in Hong Kong if it can be shown that either the judgment or its enforcement is contrary to Hong Kong’s public policy.
In January 2019, Hong Kong and Mainland China signed a new Arrangement on Reciprocal Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters by the Courts of the Mainland and of Hong Kong to facilitate enforcement of judgments in the two jurisdictions. The arrangement, which is pending implementing legislation, will cover the following key features: contractual and tortious disputes in general; commercial contracts, joint venture disputes, and outsourcing contracts; intellectual property rights, matrimonial or family matters; and judgments related to civil damages awarded in criminal cases.
Hong Kong’s Bankruptcy Ordinance provides the legal framework to enable i) a creditor to file a bankruptcy petition with the court against an individual, firm, or partner of a firm who owes him/her money; and ii) a debtor who is unable to repay his/her debts to file a bankruptcy petition against himself/herself with the court. Bankruptcy offences are subject to criminal liability.
The Companies (Winding Up and Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Bill, enacted in February 2017, aims to improve and modernize the corporate winding-up regime by increasing creditor protection and further enhancing the integrity of the winding-up process.
The Commercial Credit Reference Agency collates information about the indebtedness and credit history of SMEs and makes such information available to members of the Hong Kong Association of Banks and the Hong Kong Association of Deposit Taking Companies.
Hong Kong’s average duration of bankruptcy proceedings is 0.8 year, ranking 44th in the world for resolving insolvency, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 rankings.