Hong Kong trade faces impact amid severe COVID-19 outbreak
Published: Feb 21, 2022 10:21 PM

A nurse (center) walks through a temporary center for patients set up outside the Caritas Medical Centre in Hong Kong on February 16, 2022, as the city faces its worst COVID-19 wave to date. Photo: AFP

A nurse (center) walks through a temporary center for patients set up outside the Caritas Medical Centre in Hong Kong on February 16, 2022, as the city faces its worst COVID-19 wave to date. Photo: AFP

The latest outbreak of the COVID-19 in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), a major international trade hub, has brought serious challenges to trade, with businesses evaluating the potential disruption posed by the new wave of the epidemic.

Despite the challenges, the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department told the Global Times on Monday that it has all along been providing efficient and professional customs clearance services to the public. "No delay has occurred at the end of customs clearance [at the moment]," the department said.

Several business representatives told the Global Times on Monday that they face certain hurdles due to the epidemic situation. However, experts said that the impact will likely be temporary and the prospect of Hong Kong's trade remains unchanged.

An international logistics services provider based in Hong Kong told the Global Times on Monday that many containerships are unable to berth in Hong Kong due to the epidemic prevention situation, while additional procedures and sterilization work have extended the waiting time to about a week.

"Almost all the traded goods are affected," the person said, noting that it also takes much longer to wait for slots on cargo flights to Hong Kong, after a reduction in flights to and from the city.

The city confirmed 7,533 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, a single-day record high, pushing the total infections to 60,363.

In an interview with the Global Times on Monday, Gary Lau, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics (HAFFA), said that the impact of the epidemic has been exacerbated since late December when CX, the flag carrier, operated only seven weekly cargo flights to the Americas and none to Europe and Australia throughout the first quarter of 2022.

"Because of the epidemic, all the traded goods have been affected, ranging from food to electronic devices, with prices surging by 30-40 percent compared with the period before the Chinese New Year," Lau said.

Moreover, the biggest concern for Lau is the fact that there are not enough truck drivers to deliver goods between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland at the moment, an increasingly major challenge for regional logistics work.

"The drivers are under strict control in a bid to prevent the epidemic from spreading," the chairman said.

Lau also confirmed that there are ships waiting at the port amid the tightened epidemic prevention situation, while the longer waits have led to some international cargo ships changing their routes to other countries and regions such as Japan and South Korea instead of Hong Kong because of the latest outbreak.

In responding to the latest outbreak, HKSAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Sunday that Hong Kong society is mature and tenacious, and will surely be able to defeat the epidemic.

Despite the global pandemic, Hong Kong's overall import and export value in 2021 still achieved double-digit growth, with the value of exports increasing by 26.3 percent year-on-year and that of imports increasing by 24.3 percent year-on-year, according to data from the HKSAR government.

Although the logistics disruption caused by the epidemic may put some pressure on the city's import and export performance in the short term, Hong Kong's important position in global trade will not change, especially amid the global economic recovery, experts said.