Hong Kong has rolled out HK$2 billion (US$254 million) worth of relief measures to ease joblessness and support enterprises as the city reels from the double whammy of the ongoing political crisis and the US-China trade war.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po on Tuesday announced measures to help the logistics and tourism sectors, which were hit hardest by the ongoing anti-government protests, including subsidising fuel costs of taxis and commercial vehicles.
Chan also called on landlords to offer sweeteners to tenants such as retailers, food and catering operators, and tourism and logistics firms.
The latest wave of relief measures came after a HK$19.1 billion package in August which was followed by another round of help worth HK$1.4 billion last month. Chan said all the measures, including ones announced in the budget, would boost the economy by 2 per cent.
“The relief measures will increase the chance of the government slipping into a deficit, but we will make good use of our resources on hand to help industries ride out the economic downturn,” Chan said. “We hope property owners and landlords will support tenants, for example, retailers, restaurants, tourism and logistics operators.”
Chan said the measures were needed as Hong Kong had already entered into a technical recession, meaning growth had been negative for two consecutive quarters. The city’s unemployment rate stood at 2.9 per cent in the three months to September, remaining at the highest level since March 2018.
Some 130,000 drivers of commercial vehicles such as taxis will benefit from HK$1.35 billion worth of fuel cost subsidies, according to Chan.
About 40,000 taxi drivers stand to benefit from the fuel subsidy.
Chan Man-keung, chairman of the Association of Taxi Industry Development, said the sector had originally asked for a subsidy for cabbies of HK$2 per litre of liquefied petroleum gas but the government gave HK$1.
“We proposed this idea to the government because as taxi operators, we hope the drivers benefit more to help overcome this tough time. At least the government is willing to respond to our demands and offer some help,” he said.
He estimated that on average, taxi drivers could save about HK$1,200 per month as they generally used around 40 litres per shift every day.
Cabby Lee Chi-kin, 59, who rents a taxi for HK$380 per night shift, said he could save about HK$1,100 per month on fuel costs. “I think the government subsidy is just better than nothing as my business has been down by over 20 per cent. In the past I earned more than HK$17,000 per month, but now I only make HK$13,000 to HK$14,000. People actually don’t go out at night these days,” he said.
The government will subsidise one-third of fuel costs of public franchised buses, green minibuses, trams and ferries over a period of six months whereas commercial coaches will receive a one-off HK$5,000 subsidy.
Green minibus driver Kwong Wing-chung, 61, said the subsidy would be worth about HK$3,000 per month for his vehicle. However, he said the savings would only benefit operators as drivers were paid a monthly salary.
Franchised bus service operator KMB and sister firm Long Win Bus were happy with the allowance. Their spokeswoman said fuel costs at the two firms last year were HK$964 million, or nearly 13.6 per cent of total operating costs.
Rival firms New World First Bus and Citybus also welcomed the fuel subsidy, saying the relief measure could help ease their financial burden triggered by the social movement.
Hong Kong Tramways echoed the sentiment, saying the subsidy would help it provide the most economic transport services to residents.
Transport and housing chief Frank Chan Fan said taxi and red minibus drivers would be subsidised with HK$1 per litre of LPG, with details to be released in due course.
Rent cuts would be extended to tenants at government properties such as leisure venues, snack shops at parks, and waterfront facilities, at a cost of HK$600 million, Paul Chan said.
The tourism measures would be announced in due course, he said.
The tourism sector hopes the government will provide travel agencies with a HK$100 subsidy for each hotel room booked for an inbound tour group, the Post has learned. An allowance of HK$120 for each outbound traveller buying an air ticket through a travel agency was also proposed.
Under the shadow of the trade war, Hong Kong exports shrank 4.3 per cent in the first eight months of the year from the same period in 2018. The city’s economy only grew 0.5 per cent in the first half of 2019 year on year, the worst performance since the 2009 recession.
Tourism has taken a battering with protests dragging on since June. The latest statistics show tourist arrivals tumbled 50 per cent in the first 15 days of October following a year-on-year decline of 40 per cent in September, 30 per cent in August and 4.8 per cent in July.