With a population seven times larger than Montana in an area one-sixth the size of Yellowstone County, Hong Kong seems to have little in common with Big Sky Country.

However, a key Hong Kong trade official said Thursday in Billings the city has a growing appetite for grain and other ag products, making the two areas perfect trade partners — despite their differences.

“We’re a small-sky city because there’s so many tall buildings that block out the sky,” Clement C.M. Leung, Hong Kong’s commissioner for economic and trade affairs to the United States, told about 30 business and community leaders at the Northern Hotel.

The Washington, D.C.-based Leung made his last Montana stop Thursday at a gathering sponsored by the Billings Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau. Montana was the seventh state Leung, 48, has visited during his tour.

Hong Kong is the world’s ninth-biggest importer of U.S. goods, sixth-largest for agricultural products and fifth-largest for beef. The city has international food and wine expos, which attract producers worldwide, Leung said.

The city is an independent, highly Westernized island on the Chinese mainland, with a robust entrepreneurial climate and laws protecting free speech, Leung said.

“We have been positioning Hong Kong as a gateway, or platform, for American companies to launch,” Leung said.

Additionally, Hong Kong is in a unique position to connect China’s growing economy to the rest of the world, Leung said.

The city’s exchange rate makes it attractive to China, which is a huge importer of grain, coal and other bulk resources, he said.

“We see these businesses and a lot of investors out of China and into the United States,” Leung said.

John Brewer, CEO of the Billings chamber, said the gathering was a big step in better connecting Montana businesses large and small to Asian markets.

He said he’d like to work with his counterparts in other Montana cities to develop a trade delegation with Hong Kong.

“What a great opportunity to dive headfirst into one of the world’s greatest economies and populations,” Brewer said.



Business reporter for The Billings Gazette.