French contractor Dragages et Travaux and the Hong Kong government will put up the construction cost of the International Exhibition Centre (IEC), while Hong Kong’s Airport Authority will contribute land.

Newly appointed Hong Kong Financial Secretary Henry Tang presided over a signing ceremony at Government House on Saturday, saying the project would put the territory at the forefront of the regional exhibition market.

"I believe that the IEC will bring significant economic benefits to Hong Kong," Tang said.

"A vibrant convention and exhibition industry in Hong Kong will contribute to strengthening our position as a (commercial) capital to help attract more overseas visitors," he added.

A soft opening of the 17-hectare centre will take place by 2005 and the facility is expected to be fully operational by early 2006.

The centre will also be able to host concerts, carnivals and sports events.

Dragages has much experience in Hong Kong – having already built a range of facilities at the Chek Lap Kok airport, including the office, hotel and flight training complex for Cathay Pacific Airways.