Whither Hong Kong?

The dispute between China and the US over trade, IP protection, human rights, and basically everything else ratcheted up a notch today as President Donald Trump announced the start of the process to revoke Hong Kong’s favored trade status with the US.

“I am directing my administration to begin the process of eliminating policy exemptions that give Hong Kong different and special treatment,” Trump said in a statement.

“My announcement today will affect the full range of agreements that we have with Hong Kong, from our extradition treaty, to our export controls and technologies. We will take action to revoke Hong Kong’s preferential treatment as a separate customs and travel territory from the rest of China.”

Hong Kong is not a major landing spot for manufacturers anymore. There are roughly 30 EMS companies of any size with operations there, per the CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY Directory of EMS Companies. VTech and Wong’s are the only Top 50 EMS companies based there. There are no bare board fabrication operations of any major size.

According to one source of mine, some companies use Hong Kong as a legal way to finish assembly to bypass tariffs on Chinese made goods from the mainland. If so, the president’s action will render that moot.

My question is, what will this mean for the scores of electronics companies that have sourcing operations in Hong Kong? While most of their business is done across borders, Hong Kong offers a more Western feel (and rules) for ex-pats. With the Beijing taking an ever greater interest in the city-state, that is almost certain to change.

I could see companies moving their program management staff elsewhere, if for no other reason than Hong Kong is expensive — maybe the most expensive place in the world for ex-pats. But if so, where would they go? And what will happen to Hong Kong if other industries follow suit?

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He is also vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversees all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 20 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow