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CNBC Transcript: Robbert van Trooijen, CEO, APAC Maersk Line


Following is the transcript of a CNBC interview with Robbert van Trooijen, CEO, APAC of Maersk Line. The interview was broadcast on CNBC on 26 April 2017, during CNBC's "Hong Kong versus Singapore" theme week.

All references must be sourced to a "CNBC Interview".

Interviewed by Bernie Lo, Anchor, CNBC.

Robbert van Trooijen: For us they're both important. Singapore is one of the cities where almost all of the business units of the group are present. We have about 145 ships under the Singapore flag, including some drill ships and oil platforms. In Hong Kong, in comparison, we have about 46 ships under the Hong Kong flag, so both of them are important centers. This is our Asia Pacific regional headquarters, so it's an important hub for us from an economic perspective and from a management perspective. And Singapore is the headquarters for Southeast Asia organization.

Bernie Lo: So it's not by any means an issue of either or, it's a complementary, symbiotic relationship.

Trooijen: They both have different functions for us, and they're both present. Obviously Hong Kong proximity to China is important one.

Bernie: As infrastructure continues to be build out, and we're still waiting for the arrival of the big 30km wide bridge that will link parts of Mainland with Hong Kong, that's going to create an environment where you can get intra-land shipments of goods much more easily.

Trooijen: It will of course have an impact, but if you look at the flow of goods it's quite significant. If we just look at the ship that we're standing on now, this is a ship that can carry 17,000 containers, so that's an awful lot of trucks to be on the road, so I think that more efficient, and environmentally friendly operations like barging operations in the Pearl River Delta etc., they will continue to grow as well, and they're much more environmentally friendly than, for instance, trucking.

Bernie: Has the nature of trade changed? You know, from the outside, to the naked eye it still looks like a busy port, with a lot of containers, a lot of TEUs being moved around 24/7. But has the nature of that changed, are people moving different things to different places via Hong Kong.

Trooijen: I would say it hasn't lost any significance but I would say that of course a lot of Mainland China business goes through other ports nowadays as well.

Bernie: How does Hong Kong keep the business coming? You know, back 20 years ago, during a handover, you know, Hong Kong made up a much, much bigger proportion of net trade in China. But nowadays, you know Hong Kong, I don't want to call it another Chinese city, but China has grown by leaps and bounds. And basically they've really caught up to where Hong Kong was.

Trooijen: I would say, Hong Kong is still benefitting from the continued growth of China. If you look at the cross-border e-commerce that is coming through Hong Kong into South China, then it's still quite an important part of the logistical business of Hong Kong as a port. And that's growing quite nicely. There's no doubt, that over time, of course that the Mainland Chinese business has also found other gateways to get into China, but I wouldn't say that Hong Kong is necessarily at a disadvantaged position. Of course it's important for Hong Kong as a port to stay competitive, because the cargo will go through the most effective gateway and the most cost-effective gateway.

Bernie: When you say stay competitive, obviously you mean keeping up with technology, productivity, movement of goods, how effective are we, vis-a-vis other alternative facilities in China - basically staying one step ahead in all areas, correct?

Trooijen: Yeah, so it's the logistical hinterland, so the logistical part around the port of Hong Kong, the cross border e-commerce that flows through Hong Kong, but also how competitive is it as a trans-shipment port. So we offer several trans-shipment hubs in Asia, and Hong Kong is one of them. So for us to attract trans-shipment business into Hong Kong, we need to have a competitive price, and that's an important part of the business as well.

Bernie: As the logistics in China have become more and more attractive, is that a net negative for Hong Kong, or does that present opportunities for Hong Kong?

Trooijen: I would say it's a golden opportunity. If Hong Kong remains its legislative regimen, its tax incentives etc., I think it is definitely an opportunity for Hong Kong. I also think that whenever China grows, Hong Kong has an opportunity to participate in that. And as we have seen over many years, China still shows a relatively healthy growth compared to other economies globally.

Bernie Lo: So you wouldn't write off Hong Kong any time soon? You would never pronounce the end of Hong Kong's container port operations? The boats will never stop coming to Hong Kong?

Trooijen: Absolutely not.