Hong Kong's natural deep-water cargo port is one of the busiest and most efficient in the region; it was key to the development of the city and much trade is still conducted through it. Manufacturing is concentrated in textiles, consumer electronics and other consumer goods. Hong Kong's economy has, however, moved away from manufacturing and is now service-based, acting as a major corporate and banking centre, as well as a conduit for China's burgeoning exports.
The Hong Kong dollar is one of the most traded currencies in the world, and the economy has long been based on a strong free market ideology with minimal regulation. That said, the administration has allowed the existence of monopolies in certain sectors (such as the Jockey Club’s control over gambling) rather than insist on competition. The last colonial government, in the mid-1990s, significantly increased public spending to improve social welfare. There have been further slow moves in this direction since the handover to China in 1997 – including the introduction of a minimum wage – but the gap between rich and poor remains very wide.
The years since the handover have seen numerous economic challenges, starting with Asia's financial crisis. With its mature and stable banking system, Hong Kong weathered the immediate storm, but its economy was affected by a large financial depression across the region. After a brief recovery, by mid-2002 the economy was contracting and in 2003 the SARS epidemic caused a further, prolonged downturn.
A buoyant recovery followed, with a new wave of construction and infrastructure investment evident, and a major influx of cash-rich tourists from mainland China. In late 2008, however, Hong Kong's financial markets were badly affected by the global financial crisis. With such a strong reliance on international trade, this has hit the city hard but again the stability of the economy has been evident.
The city remains a popular location for business meetings and expos. Meetings and Exhibitions Hong Kong is a division of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, which specialises in promoting Hong Kong as a leading venue. It publishes lavish and detailed brochures showcasing the region for conference and incentive planners, together with a glossy catalogue of promotional material, a directory of associations and societies in Hong Kong and an excellent website (www.discoverhongkong.com/mice). The main expo venues are the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and the AsiaWorld-Expo.