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Engineering Industry in Hong Kong

Overview

  • Hong Kong's engineers are active in exporting their services to the region, particularly the Chinese mainland. In the construction sector, major types of professional engineering services that are currently being exported include project management, building services work and engineering consulting. Non-construction related engineering services are mainly exported indirectly through the export of manufactured goods, especially advanced equipment and products which embody high engineering services content.
  • In 2015, the transport sector was the second largest end-user group of Hong Kong’s construction activities, riding on the accelerated transportation construction of the ten mega infrastructure, which includes the Hong Kong-Zhuhai Macau Bridge and the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Express Link.
  • The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) has more than 14,000 corporate members. Professional disciplines with the HKIE include building services, materials, mechanical, structural, civil, control, automation & instrumentation, geotechnical, electrical, electronics, environmental, manufacturing & industrial, marine & naval architecture, biomedical and chemical.
  • The engineering qualifications of locally educated engineers have gained mutual recognition from Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK, the US, the Chinese mainland and South Africa. Many experienced local engineers are also holders of international engineering qualifications.

Industry Data

Table: Industry Data (Engineering Industry)
Table: Industry Data (Engineering Industry)

Range of Services

Engineers involved in construction are multi-disciplinary, including civil, structural, building, electrical and mechanical. In 2015, the transport sector was only seconded by residential building as the end-user group of construction activities, followed by service building and commercial building projects.

The overall gross value of construction works performed by main contractors in Hong Kong has been rising since 2009. A strong growth of 8.2% in the value of transport sector drove up the construction activities by18.1% to HK$145 billion in 2015. As the ten mega infrastructure projects are being rolled out in phases as scheduled, demand for engineering services in Hong Kong, particularly demand from the transport sector, will remain high.

Engineers working in the non-construction related industries provide a broad range of disciplinary and business activities, the larger ones being:

  • Electronic engineering services
  • Electronics circuit and other technical design services
  • Electrical engineering services
  • Mechanical engineering services
  • Chemical engineering services
  • Industrial research laboratory services
  • Industrial technical consultant services
  • Marine engineering services
  • Computer hardware consultancy
  • Other commercial research and development and testing services

Services Providers

Many engineers are members of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), a local professional body for engineers. First established as the Engineering Society of Hong Kong in 1947, the HKIE was incorporated by government ordinance in 1975 to set professional standards and to encourage professional development for local engineers. In 1992, the HKIE qualification was recognised for government services appointments. The HKIE has become a key qualifying body for a wide range of engineering disciplines. It has over 30,000 members, of which more than 14,000 are corporate members.

Table: Corporate Membership of the HKIE
Table: Corporate Membership of the HKIE

Exports

Construction-related

Most of the export business comes from Asia, particularly the Chinese mainland. The construction sector, particularly the professionals, benefits from Hong Kong's extensive investment activities in the region. Most of Hong Kong's investments in the region are in manufacturing, property development, hotel construction and infrastructure projects. Major types of professional engineering services that are currently being exported include consultative engineering services, engineering design services for construction projects and project management.

Non-construction related

Direct exports of Hong Kong's non-construction related engineering services are limited as the industry is domestically-oriented and entry into many foreign countries is restricted. However, such services are exported indirectly through the exports of manufactured goods, especially advanced equipment and products which embody high engineering services content.

A number of Hong Kong's engineering companies are exporting their services via working for multinational companies in Southeast Asia, North America and Western Europe, covering a wide range of industries including information technology, telecommunications, chemicals and fast moving consumer goods.

The largest market for Hong Kong's engineering service exports is the Chinese mainland. High-tech equipment and engineering services are in great demand on the mainland. Japan, the US, Germany and other European countries have already made a strong presence on the Chinese mainland in areas such as electronics, electrical and mechanical, information systems, bio-chemical, industrial and telecommunications engineering. Engineering companies from other places in Asia, such as Taiwan and South Korea, are trying to capture a larger share of the Chinese mainland market. Singapore, striving to become the region's technology centre, is also active in developing opportunities in the mainland market. Even in the face of a highly competitive market, local engineers benefit from Hong Kong's extensive investment activities on the Chinese mainland.

Based on the latest available statistics released in February 2016, Hong Kong's exports of architectural, engineering, scientific and other technical services amounted to HK$4,107 million in 2014.

Table: Exports of Services
Table: Exports of Services

Industry Development and Market Outlook

Investment in local public infrastructure

Hong Kong’s ten mega infrastructure projects, first announced in the 2007 Policy Address, are being rolled out in phases, thereby boosting the city’s construction market. In addition, the Hong Kong government has also moved ahead with other projects, such as Operation Building Bright and Revitalising Historic Building. The unemployment rate in the construction sector, after easing to 5% in 2014, fell to 3.9% in 2015, down sharply from the financial tsunami peak of 12.8%.

In the Budget 2016/17, the Hong Kong government projected the public expenditure on capital works to hit HK$78.5 billion for the fiscal year ending March 2017. In recent years, the government's infrastructure investment has been maintained at high levels, with several construction and transport projects being carried forward in parallel. Progress is being made with the construction of Central-Wan Chai Bypass (CWB) and Island Eastern Corridor Link (IECL) and the northern connection sub-sea tunnel of Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link (TMCLKL) to be completed by 2019. In addition to the West Island Line, railway network projects of the South Island Line (East) and Kwun Tong Line Extension are both expected to be finalised in 2016. With the second berth of the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal building came into operation in 2014, the terminal is now able to accommodate two mega cruise ships with a gross tonnage of up to 220,000 tonnes.

In September 2014, the Railway Development Strategy was published to outline the future expansion plan of Hong Kong’s railway network from 2015 to 2031. Seven new railway construction projects were highlighted, including the Northern Link and Kwu Tung Station, Hung Shui Kiu Station and Tung Chung West Extension. It is estimated that the total length of the railway network will lengthen from approximately 218 km at present to 270 km in 2021 and over 300 km by 2031 at the cost of HK$ 110 billion. Besides the investment in new transport infrastructure, the Hong Kong government also has plans to increase the handling capacity of the logistics sector. A final feasibility study has been completed for two sites in Tuen Mun near the TMCLKL Tuen Mun Exit, potentially providing new warehouse space of about 2.7 million sq ft upon completion expected in 2019.

China's real estate development and construction market

Reflecting the country’s economic growth and its fast pace of urbanisation, China’ property market has attracted a huge amount of investment, including overseas investment. Hong Kong companies, such as NWS Holdings and Hang Lung Properties, are leading investors in the mainland’s infrastructure and housing market, given their knowledge of the mainland market and expertise in quality control, cost control, project management and financial capacity. Hong Kong’s electrical and mechanical engineering service providers have also participated in many of the mainland’s medium-cost housing programmes, working closely with their mainland counterparts to lay the foundation for cooperation. Aside from this, the HKIE has signed co-operation agreements with six industry associations on the mainland, including the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) and Beijing Association for Science and Technology (BAST).

Driven by local governments’ effort to reach urbanisation target and boost GDP growth, a lot of new towns have been developed along the outskirts of China’s second and third tier cities in the past decade. Yet, a lack of supportive infrastructure and transport network has left most of the newly built apartments empty. An increasing number of these “ghost town”, together with the recent deceleration of economic growth as China enters a “new normal” mode, greatly softened the property market in 2014. After a period of market adjustment, the property market is showing initial signs of stabilisation, with average new home prices in China’s 70 major cites rising 7.9% in July 2016 over the same period last year.   

Infrastructure projects in China

Rapid urbanisation has driven the infrastructure development on the Chinese mainland in recent years. In the 2014-2020 urbanisation plan announced in 2014, the Chinese government aims to increase the urbanisation rate from 53.7% in 2013 to 60% by 2020, with approximately 100 million people expected to move from the rural areas into cities. Under the 13th Five-year plan, the Chinese government will continue with its current development priority to increase infrastructure investment, including the expansion of transportation network as well as a strong focus on information infrastructure development, such as the construction of high speed broadband, 4G network and cloud computing centre. In 2015, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced plans to further stimulate infrastructure growth by attracting over US$300 billion of private investment through public-private partnership (PPP) projects. Under an action plan jointly issued by the Ministry of Transport and NDRC in May 2016, RMB4.7 trillion (US$722 billion) will be invested in 303 transport infrastructure projects including railways, roads, waterways, airports and metro systems over a period of three years.

Huge demand for expertise in infrastructure development can be expected. It will create ample business opportunities for engineers, including public utilities, energy management and environmental-related work. Foreign firms can either establish wholly-owned company or form joint-venture with local companies to bid for projects. For example, HKC (Holdings) Ltd, through its subsidiary China Renewable Energy Investment, has been investing and operating wind farms on the mainland.

Green Building Boom

Ongoing awareness of environmental protection leads to an increasing demand for green buildings. Hong Kong’s Urban Renewal Authority, for example, has announced its environmental sustainability policy for future urban renewal projects. According to Hong Kong Building Environmental Assessment Method (BEAM) Society, founder and owner of the BEAM scheme, over 140 million sq ft and 50,000 residential units had been certified with BEAM green building certification.

Apart from Hong Kong, other cities or countries are also going green. Dongtan Eco-City in Shanghai aims to create a city that will be as energy-efficient as possible. The Masdar City in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi aims to be a carbon-free city, relying entirely on renewable energy sources. In turn, increasing environmental consciousness generates business opportunities for the electrical, mechanical, building services and environmental engineering sectors. Some Hong Kong companies have already grabbed the chance and won projects. Hip Hing Construction, for example, won contracts in Masdar in Abu Dhabi, and Arup Hong Kong was involved in the Dongtan Eco-City in Shanghai.

Infrastructure projects and property developments in Asia

To match up with rapid economic growth, many developing Asian countries (e.g. India and Indonesia) have recognised the urgent needs to upgrade their basic infrastructure, road networks, port facilities, housing and city planning. Foreign firms are increasingly allowed to participate as investors in the ownership as well as the management of these projects. For example, Hong Kong’s CLP Group is a major private investor in the power generation sector in India, investing in more than ten wind farms, a coal-fired power plant and a gas-fired power plant. AECOM, a leading international engineering construction services provider, is commissioned by the World Bank to provide consultancy services for developing the water supply and sanitation systems in Vietnam and Yunnan on the mainland.

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Asia is estimated to require US$8 trillion on infrastructure investment from 2011-2020, meaning that US$800 billion will be needed for each intervening year. Apart from infrastructure, more commercial and retail properties are being built or renovated in many Asian countries, such as India, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

The Belt and Road Opportunities

In March 2015, China’s National Development and Reform Commission issued The Vision and Actions on Jointly Building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, outlining the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), co-operation priorities and mechanisms. In the 2016 Policy Address, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive noted that the city should play an active role to facilitate the implementation of the BRI, leveraging its strengths in providing professional services in a wide range of disciplines, and the competence and experience to lead consultancies, construction projects, operations and management of the many infrastructural projects. Aimed at supporting the funding of energy, transport and infrastructure projects in Asia, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was established in 2015 with an initial capital of US$100 billion. The AIIB, along with US$40 billion Silk Road Fund and the ADB, is expected to significantly boost the overall investment in the region.

The Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between Hong Kong and the Mainland (CEPA)

CEPA provides many benefits to Hong Kong’s engineering businesses, which range from greater flexibility in entering the mainland market to mutual qualification recognition. Under CEPA, construction professional services include construction design services, engineering services, integrated engineering services, urban planning and landscape design services (except overall urban planning services).

Currently, China allows foreign-owned construction and engineering design enterprises to set up wholly owned or joint-venture enterprises on the mainland. However, there are still strict restrictions on them. In comparison, CEPA offers more relaxed access conditions for Hong Kong Service Suppliers (HKSS).

In addition, CEPA also allows eligible Hong Kong residents to take part in the following 18 Mainland professional examinations related to the construction and engineering services.

Professional examinations related to construction and engineering services include:

  • Registered architect
  • Registered structural engineer
  • Registered civil engineer (geotechnical)
  • Construction supervising engineer
  • Cost engineer
  • Registered town planner
  • Certified safety engineer
  • Registered nuclear safety engineer
  • Constructor
  • Registered public facility engineer
  • Registered chemical engineer
  • Registered civil engineer (harbour and waterway)
  • Registered facility supervising engineer
  • Environmental impact assessment engineer
  • Real estate appraiser
  • Registered electrical engineer
  • Certified public valuer
  • Registered consulting engineer (investment)

To facilitate Hong Kong residents to apply for professional qualification examinations held in Guangdong, Hong Kong residents are also permitted to apply for the examinations via the website of Guangdong professional qualification examination centre.

After ten annual Supplements to keep broadening the liberalisation measures in favour of HKSS, Hong Kong and the mainland entered into a subsidiary agreement under CEPA in 2014 to achieve basic liberalisation of trade in service in Guangdong (the Guangdong Agreement). This was then followed by the Agreement on Trade in Services (ATIS) to extend the coverage of the 2014 agreement from Guangdong to the rest of the mainland starting from June 2016. Unlike the previous Supplements which adopted a positive-list approach to introducing liberalisation measures, the two latest agreements adopt a hybrid approach to granting preferential access to Hong Kong using both positive and negative lists. Further information on the latest CEPA agreements can be found here.

Contractual service providers employed by HKSS are allowed to provide construction and related engineering services in the Mainland, in the mode of movement of natural persons. Regarding elective courses of continuing education which the mainland’s registered architects have to attend, Hong Kong professionals are allowed to complete elective courses in Hong Kong or be taught by mainland teachers in Hong Kong. The arrangement for conducting elective courses of continuing education must be recognised by the mainland authorities.

As of 31 August 2016, there were 104 approved HKSS in the sector of construction professional services and construction and related engineering services.

Content provided by Picture: Winnie Tsui
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