Hong Kong Heads Home From Basel 'Bitterly Disappointed'

April 4, 2003

Hong Kong Heads Home From Basel 'Bitterly Disappointed'

Onerous new government regulations that would have allowed exhibitors from Hong Kong, China and Singapore into the Basel World trade show after screening for the SARS virus made it effectively impossible for them to stay, according to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Accordingly, the council's 317 would-be exhibitors withdrew from the show in protest on Thursday, the first day of the show.

"The consensus of TDC and the Hong Kong exhibitors is that this is totally unacceptable and leaves us no option but to withdraw," says Frederick Lam, deputy executive director of HKTDC. "We will proceed with legal action and sue for damages." Legal counsel for Basel World believes that under Swiss law, any damages that could be awarded would be the responsibility of the Swiss government, not the show.

Swiss health authorities proposed the new regulations Thursday after officials of Basel World and the Hong Kong government asked them to reconsider their original Tuesday directive banning exhibit staff from Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Vietnam, the countries most afflicted with SARS. The virus has sickened 2,200 and killed more than 70 people worldwide. The new regulations would have required the estimated 5,000 booth workers to submit to daily health checks and to wear masks and change them every four hours. In addition all booth items, including products, would have to be disinfected daily. Basel World management says it would have taken until Sunday to implement the new regulations, which was too long to wait, says HKTDC. Basel World also says it was beyond the scope of its resources to meet the new regulations so it would adhere to the original directive.

Many Basel exhibitors remain mystified why the health authorities continue to allow buyers – but not exhibitors – from the four countries into the show. The government issued no explanation, though some insiders say health officials worried that booth enclosures would allow the virus to spread more rapidly. "No one seems to have taken into account that visitors spend a great deal of time in booths as well," said one exhibitor who asked not to be named.

The HKTDC and Basel World management remain busy today helping the almost 400 exhibitors affected in closing their booths and shipping merchandise back home. HKTDC says the council's European-based staff would remain on-site in Zurich to redirect buyers to the virtual Hong Kong Pavilion on www.tdctrade.com, where they can view exhibitors' products and obtain contact details. Hong Kong's delegation was to be the largest country pavilion in the new Basel World Zurich location, which remains open with 400 other exhibitors from various other countries around the world.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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