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HK Banks to Open RMB Services

Hong Kong banks will open their renminbi services in the near future, according to a Beijing-based newspaper.


The Business Post Monday quoted unidentified banking sources as saying representatives from the central People's Bank of China and the China Banking Regulatory Commission will go to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region next month to consult with local officials on the scope of the services -- which may include deposits, remittance, exchange and credit card services -- and the mechanism for currency flowing back to the Chinese mainland.


The central bank said earlier it had been working on rules in relation to opening the services since last year and had been conferring with related government agencies.


Research by investment bank UBS estimates the value of renminbi in Hong Kong to be over 57 billion yuan (US$6.9 billion). It is expected to reach 157 billion (US$19 billion) by 2005.


Yi Xianrong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said most of the renminbi in Hong Kong is now circulating through underground exchanges.


The transactions could be part of illegal activities such as money laundering, he said.


The opening of personal renminbi business will channel the cash in the "grey area" into an official system, Yi said.


"This will also cut the cost of renminbi-related transactions and will help strengthen the regulation of these transactions," said Yi, who is part of a team conducting research on banking co-operation between the mainland and the special administrative region.


Zong Liang, a researcher with the Bank of China's International Finance Institute, said a key issue in opening the services is settlement, which requires co-ordination from the authorities.


The efficiency of settlement will influence the renminbi's return to the mainland, Zong said.


The Hong Kong Monetary Authority was reported to be willing to act as the settlement bank.


Zhong Wei, a professor with Beijing Normal University, suggests a mainland-backed bank should be designated as the settlement house for other Hong Kong banks conducting renminbi business.


The prospect of Hong Kong banks engaging in renminbi business also prompted discussion about the region's chances of becoming a center for offshore finance in renminbi. But Yi said that was still far away.


Offshore finance refers mainly to banking business operating outside the official territory of a currency.


Yi said the prerequisite for forming an offshore center for a currency was the full convertibility of the currency.


When a currency is not convertible under the capital account -- as the renminbi is at the moment -- it is impossible to carry out loan business in the currency, Yi said.



(China Daily August 12, 2003)

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