Hong Kong returns to Basel Show; Swiss government apologizes

Now it’s official: Hong Kong will return to Switzerland’s BaselWorld trade show, the world’s largest jewelry and watch fair, as reported in July by JCK. The Swiss government has also apologized for banning Hong Kong exhibitors this year from the show.

Officials of Swiss and Hong Kong governments, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), and the MCH Basel Exhibition Ltd, the organizer of BaselWorld on Sept. 3 took part in a high-profile public signing ceremony in Hong Kong. The new six-year agreement represents “a new partnership between HKTDC and BaselWorld [and] secures Hong Kong’s participation for years to come on far more favorable terms,” said Frederick Lam, HKTDC deputy executive director.

In April 2003, Hong Kong’s exhibitors—312 companies, the largest foreign delegation in the Basel show—were barred by the Swiss government from doing business at BaselWorld to prevent the possible spread of the SARS virus, which began in China. Many angry Hong Kong exhibitors and some HKTDC officials vowed never to return, and some threatened to withdraw completely from future Basel shows.

Lam and Réne Kamm, MCH chief executive officer, co-signed the new agreement. Franz von Däniken, state secretary of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and Henry Tang, financial secretary for the Hong Kong government, formally witnessed the signing. Watch and jewelry industry association representatives and Michael Sze, HKTDC executive director, also attended the ceremony. Neither commented on the new pacts effect on possible lawsuits, which the HKTDC, MCH, and individual exhibitors were considering against the Swiss government because of the April incident.

von Däniken’s presence, though, indicated how seriously the April incident affected relations between Hong Kong (a Special Administrative Territory of China) and Switzerland. “Hong Kong is one of our most important trading partners in watches and jewelry,” said von Däniken, and the Swiss government “deeply regrets” its April decision had caused resentment and harmed the interests of Hong Kong exhibitors.

“We on the Swiss side are aware that our efforts with regard to communication and coordination have to be strengthened,” he conceded, “particularly in relation with such important trading partners like Hong Kong.” The new agreement, he said, lays “the foundations [for] harmonious co-operation in the years to come.”

Under the new six-year agreement, starting with BaselWorld 2004, Hong Kong will get a prime location in a new exhibition hall (an existing building adjoining the fair grounds, now being renovated and re-dubbed Hall 6 or “Hall of Universe”). The new hall will house all national exhibitor pavilions at BaselWorld. HKTDC will contribute some money to the new hall’s renovation. Exhibitors have also been guaranteed stable participation fees starting with 2004 at a competitive rate.

The new arrangement was reviewed and endorsed earlier this summer by leaders of Hong Kong’s six watch and jewelry associations.

Kamm said Hong Kong has a special place in the BaselWorld show. “It’s the only Asian territory represented in our Exhibitor’s Committee,” he noted, “and it’s one of the few [national participants] whose presence has been expanding rapidly in the last 20 years. For us, Hong Kong is not only an attraction for buyers. It also sets an excellent example for other countries [for] the highest standard in presentation and design of its pavilion and stands.”

The Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Hong Kong’s trade promotion agency, has organized Hong Kong’s participation at the Basel show since 1986.

BaselWorld 2004 will be held from Apr. 15 – 22 in Basel, Switzerland.