Macau reinforcing trade agent role for China and Portuguese-speaking countries

Echo Chan Keng Hong

Macau is striving to achieve its mission as a support service platform for small and medium businesses from China and Portuguese-speaking countries. In an interview with Business Daly, the deputy secretary general of the Secretariat for the Forum for Economic and Trade Co-operation between China and Portuguese-speaking countries, Echo Chan Keng Hong, said she also wants to reinforce the platform’s promotional function for the food products trade for these countries as well

Stephanie Lai

In 2013, the 4th Ministerial Conference was held here for China and Portuguese-speaking countries, positioning the three-year mission for Macau to be a support service hub for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), a centre for conventions and exhibitions (MICE) businesses as well as a ‘commodities distribution centre’, as outlined by then-Secretary for Economy and Finance Francis Tam.

How well has this been implemented so far?
Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (IPIM) has already been handling the functions as a support service hub for SMEs and for MICE businesses. All the trade fairs the unit helps organise are actually fulfilling part of the goal.
The ‘commodities distribution centre’ is a project led by the Secretary for Economy and Finance here and China’s Ministry of Commerce, with the works to realise it being handled by IPIM.
The whole concept of it means that in Macau we have to create an online portal that works around-the-clock, an information platform where people can access information about the markets, and what support services we can offer to SMEs and for the MICE businesses as well as Portuguese-speaking coutnries’ food product information. This portal also includes a database of professionals. This website has actually been operational since April. And the content of it is still being enriched now, which we – with various businesses and education institutions – will permanently feed more content to.
And for this goal serving as a ‘commodities distribution centre’ it’s actually meant as one for food products. IPIM already has a product display centre called Macao Ideas for the Portuguese-speaking countries’ companies. But for food products we mean to build a new product display centre, which we hope can be realised by 2016 – and it’s going to be a separate centre from Macao Ideas.

So this distribution centre is meant to be another Macao Ideas display centre?
In its design, as the government requires, the project also has to fulfil a logistics and trade function for the businesses. As I understand, IPIM is working on the project. We hope that in the next stage the centre can also play a trade function as well.

How well do you think the product display centre can work as a distribution centre?
It’s going to be effective. With Macao Ideas, it is a place that bundles up all different types of products and promotes them well.
Compared to 2003, we’ve seen a tenfold increase in the demand for Portuguese-speaking countries’ products in China in ten years time. And for the products that entered Mainland China via Macau the volume that went in there has kept on increasing. So we reckon that while there’s still demand for good quality products [from Portuguese-speaking countries] Macau can serve the function of trade promoter.

With the US$1 billion Co-operation and Development fund, co-sponsored by the China Development Bank and Macau Industrial and Commercial Development Fund, we know that two projects from Mozambique and Angola, respectively, have secured some financial support. What are these projects?
The capital support from the Fund for the Mozambique project is worth US$10 million, while that for the Angolan project is US$5 million. The capital gained from the Fund has already been invested in the projects.
The Angolan project is a solar lighting one, while the Mozambique project is actually an investment made by some Chinese companies in agricultural co-operation in the country. Through this project the Chinese party is introducing a rice-planting technique, the ploughing and irrigation system required as well as warehousing, transportation and food manufacturing.
Mozambique is a country with rich agricultural resources but most of their food sources are reliant upon imports. So they need agricultural techniques and professionals from Mainland China to help them grow crops to feed their demand for food products.

We understand that there are still 10 other projects being reviewed for financial support from the fund. Can you tell us more about these 10 projects?
These 10 applications involve projects located in Brazil, Timor Leste and Guinea Bissau, with sectors ranging from agriculture to tourism to hotels and the manufacturing of electronic projects. Now, it is the China-Africa Development Fund that oversees the applications and reviews the cases.

When mulling financing for these projects, do any particular sectors have priority?
As we understand it, the fund is open to all types of businesses – what they consider is the feasibility of the project and how well it can work in the market. As the fund has introduced before, the financial support is not only meant for benefiting Mainland Chinese companies but those that invest in Portuguese-speaking countries can also consider applying for it.

Macau has spoken of serving as a platform for promoting medical businesses between China and the Portuguese-speaking countries. How well has the city achieved that goal?
As said in the 3rd Ministerial Conference [of the Forum for Economic and Trade Co-operation between China and Portuguese-speaking countries, held in 2010], Macau had the goal of developing traditional Chinese medical practice and taking part in this field co-operating with regional partners. In 2012, we started the training programme for traditional medical practice, where we had officials, trade chamber representatives and training institution members from seven Portuguese-speaking countries participate in the programme here. The results were very good.
So at that time, we started to build ties with Portugal and Brazil to see how we could open up their markets [for medical business], and to see about their product certification, and make some preparation works for all that. We’re glad to see that these works are still ongoing.

What’s the role of the Guangdong-Macau Traditional Chinese Medicine Science and Technology Industrial Park in Hengqin?

The Guangdong-Macau Traditional Chinese Medicine Science and Technology Industrial Park in Hengqin is a government invested project. We see that the Portuguese-speaking countries have also joined their international exchange and co-operation centre.

The government has been promoting the [medical] sector through these training programmes and reached out to interested countries to join. Has its role been successful?
From the goal set in the 3rd ministerial conference, the MSAR said it hoped to develop the traditional medical sector and participate in regional co-operation, which takes years to brew and now we are only at the very first step. This is a process where the city is playing a platform role, and it cannot be achieved overnight.

What is the appeal of Hengqin for Portuguese-speaking countries’ firms; what business opportunities do they see there now?
Hengqin is no doubt a highlight of regional co-operation because it’s close to Macau, and is an extension of space which the city lacks, as well as a market for a wider audience. For outside investors, the island is like Macau, which they see as access to the bigger market of Zhuhai or even Guangdong.
In the ministerial meetings or other activities of the Forum, we see to the needs of the delegates [from Portuguese-speaking countries] there and take them to visit not only Hengqin but other provinces in China they’re interested in.

Has the Forum’s budget or operation been affected by the downturn in gaming revenues? Any chance to undergo a structural change and become part of IPIM?
We don’t really have such information [of a structural change] at the moment. But even if there is a need for a change in the unit’s structure or in work assignment, this kind of scenario always happens in different government departments here.

So you’re saying that it’s possible for the Forum [to undergo a structural change]?
No, I don’t mean that. What I’m saying is that the Forum’s activities are meant to be permanently held here, and its goal to support the central government’s economic development policies will not change. Regarding the budget issue, just as other government departments, we always spend the amount we need. And we always have different means to avoid unnecessary expenses – even before this gaming slump happened. Of course, now we will be even more cautious.

Echo Chan Keng Hong

In March, veteran administrator Echo Chan Keng Hong took up the post of co-ordinator of the Support Office to the Permanent Secretariat of the Forum for Economic and Trade and Co-operation between China and Portuguese-speaking countries, an organ responsible for helping promote multi-lateral economic exchanges.
Ms. Chan, previously a director at the Macao Institute for Promotion of Trade and Investment (IPIM), succeeded Rita Botelho Santos, who had held the post since the creation of Forum Macau in 2003.
She was also previously a co-ordinator of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Industrial and Scientific Park, a MSAR-invested project located in Hengqin born out of co-operation initiatives between the city and the Guangdong Government.