MDT Interview | Vítor Sereno: ‘Portugal is a good place to live and certainly a good place to invest’

Vitor Sereno, Portuguese consul general to Macau and Hong Kong.

Portugal supports all China’s “initiatives to boost Macau’s interface role,” namely as part of the Belt and Road initiative, the CEPA mechanism, and the Forum Macao.  Consul General Vítor Sereno believes in the city’s calling as an East-West meeting point, particularly in the relations between China and the Lusophone world.

Lisbon is reinforcing its presence in China with the announcement of a new diplomatic post in Guangzhou, “which will most probably open this year.” The Canton office will join a network which includes the embassy in Beijing, offices in Shanghai and the consulate general for Macau and Hong Kong, which is based in the renovated historic building of the old Hospital S. Rafael – where Western medicine was first introduced to China.

Vítor Paulo da Costa Sereno, 45, arrived in Macau in 2013 and recently started his second 3-year term as Consul General. With renewed “good spirits and strength” he continues to safeguard and promote the interests of Portugal, and to uphold the presence of the Portuguese community in Macau and Hong Kong, where there are 165 thousand Portuguese passport holders combined.

“Until my last day here I will always fight for this,” he says in an exclusive interview with the Times, speaking of the importance of keeping the Portuguese people, heritage and culture as “an integral part” of a formula that blends tradition and modernity into this city.

With a degree in law, Vítor Sereno first joined the foreign office in Lisbon in 1997. “My first assignment abroad was Guinea Bissau, a former Portuguese colony. After 2 years I was posted to the Embassy of Portugal in Buenos Aires,” and then he served as consul general in Germany.

Before being appointed head of mission of the Consulate General for Macau and HK, he served as chief of cabinet for a former minister in the previous Lisbon government, a center-right coalition.
Fast forward.
Today marks the beginning of what was branded by Mr Sereno as “the month of Portugal,” with the exhibition by renown artist Graça Morais, at the Clube Militar – itself, another hot-spot of Portuguese heritage in Macau. Apart from the Day of Portugal and of the Portuguese communities (June 10), this month there will be an array of events that will showcase some big names in painting, ceramics, music, drama and cinema from the “old country.”

Macau Daily Times (MDT) – We are doing this interview in between two major dates for Portugal and the Portuguese communities: April 25 and June 10. How does Macau celebrate these national holidays and, briefly, what do they really mean for you and for Portugal and Macau?
Vítor Sereno (VS) – To put it briefly, I’d say that when we celebrate the June 10th, we are honoring Portugal as one of the oldest countries in Europe and the pioneering contributions that were given (not only to the country but also to the world), over our more than 900 years of history, by generations of anonymous men and women, workers, rulers, free thinkers, scientists, business men, artists and others.
When commemorating April 25th, we are exalting a particular moment in that history, when we started to build Portugal as a modern country – a democracy – aiming for social, political and economic development whilst actively engaging in the world’s most challenging issues and multilateral organizations. So, both dates are actually very much related to each other and to the image of our country we want to share with others: tradition and innovation.
As with other relatively strong Portuguese communities in other latitudes, the Portuguese community in Macau plays a very significant part in achieving this goal.

MDT– In Macau and in the greater China region, Portugal has been immediately perceived as a country with good, affordable wine and food. Is this image changing to something else?
VS – There is nothing wrong with Portugal being seen as a country with affordable goods and services, namely those in the tourism industry. I would like to highlight that Portugal has a long and never-ending love story with food and beverage industries. [Besides,] the Mediterranean Diet, classified as World Heritage by UNESCO, is part of the DNA of the Portuguese gastronomy.
What we are working hard on is to make clear that affordability also comes with the best quality and excellence, being in tourism or in other areas of economic activity. Because that is, in fact, one of our competitive advantages, along with our geographical and cultural strategic positions in different commercial and political spheres – resulting from our investment in education, infrastructure and R&D. Portugal is a good place to live but certainly also a good place to invest. Our products and services have, in many others areas aside from wine and food, gained positions in different markets, due to that association between quality, reliability, advanced technology and competitive pricing.


MDT – What about other markets in greater China?
VS – Hong Kong is the 4th destination for Portuguese exports to Asia. In 2015, the main portion of our exports to this market (around 60%) were products with high- and medium-high technological intensity, such as optical and precision instruments, and machines and equipment. Food exports represented around 10% of our exports to Hong Kong. Furthermore, Hong Kong’s large companies are discovering the Portuguese market, namely in the area of renewable energies. Recently, a consortium formed between Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings Limited (CKI) and Power Assets Holdings Limited (PAH), controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing, bought Portugal’s wind-farm developer, Iberwind. In the case of PR China, our main local exports (almost 70%) are vehicles and other transport equipment, mineral products, wood pulp, and electrical machines and equipment. Similar to Hong Kong, those are products of mainly medium-to-high technological intensity. Furthermore, Portugal is one of the main destinations for Chinese investment, prioritizing areas of finance, energy, and real estate.

MDT– Food & beverage is still a major part in the trade and also a way of life of many Portuguese citizens in Macau. Surprisingly enough, since the handover we have witnessed a growth in this sector. Why?
VS – Macau is a service economy. The importance of the gaming industry is enormous, especially since 2001. Simultaneously, the government priority is economic diversification, and the challenge is to turn Macau into a major international leisure and tourism destination. In this scenario it is absolutely natural that services such as restaurants, wholesale and retail of food and beverages have become important to the local economy. The emergence of a gaming-tourism industry promotes the fast development of all those supporting industries. Also, in the last two years, 60 million people visited Macau. The visitors with high purchasing power are searching for exquisite and differentiated experiences. Food is an important part of that experience. Due to the Portuguese legacy, Macau has a unique value offering, which blends Oriental and Western cultures. (…) In the last decade the economy of Macau has experienced tremendous growth and major changes to people’s way of life. As a result, the average income increased significantly. This growing purchasing power allowed the increase in consumption of goods and services. Food constitutes an important part of a family’s budget. Eating out is a very “local habit,” and people take several meals in restaurants, cafes… And more and more people are looking for differentiated, quality experiences.

MDT- Also increasing in number are people and the use of the Portuguese language. How do you explain the popularity of the latter? Is it mainly the Chinese interest in Africa?
VS – The overall picture is that the Portuguese language has, in fact, increasingly reinforced its role as a tool for international communication. The presence of the Portuguese speaking countries in almost all of the most important geostrategic political and economic “fora” in the five continents and their importance in the global and regional economies has meant Portuguese language is seen as an economic, political, scientific and cultural asset.
The cooperation involving states, governments and different stakeholders towards global development is also being conducted in Portuguese in many different contexts. The growth in learning Portuguese in Asian countries, and clearly more significantly in China, is related to these facts. I also would like to emphasize the significant role that Portuguese speaking communities are increasingly playing in the promotion of the Portuguese language, not only in their host countries but also in international networks.

MDT– People. Portugal has become a country of migrants again. But it is difficult to hire people from Portugal, and for Portuguese applying for BIR. Do you receive complaints regarding this issue?
VS – Since my arrival I have received no more than 3 or 4 complaints about this issue. But I’m very attentive, not only to this problem but also to this new wave of Portuguese emigration.  About this specific point, as I’ve said, more than complaints, I receive regular reports and actual statistics from the local authorities about the approval of BIRs to Portuguese citizens. I regularly meet the Secretary of Security, Dr Wong Sio Chak in the framework of regular meetings I have been having with various members of the executive. At our last meeting, we reviewed aspects related to the attribution/residence renewal of Portuguese citizens, which are based on objective criteria that are public knowledge, such as the life-story links to Macau; family ties with residents; and the exercise of activity in the public interest for the MSAR and to ensure a livelihood and a decent life.
The Secretary for Security has always expressed his commitment to the effect that, in compliance with the legal provisions, Portuguese citizens continue to be welcome to this Special Administrative Region and to collaborate with it. On several occasions he reiterated the idea that he considers the Portuguese community as an integral and important part of the MSAR. Until my last day here I will always fight for this.

MDT– Other very important sectors of the Portuguese community are active in structural areas of this society.
VS – Entirely agree! Because we are helping Macau! Seeing our fellow citizens playing an important role in the development of Macau in several fields such as law, health, construction, education, press and architecture, is an undeniable symbol of their professional quality. It gave me great joy when I heard the Secretary of Social Affairs and Culture saying that the MSAR needs more Portuguese professionals (doctors and nurses) at the public hospital. The same thing happens when he refers to the quality of our teachers at the Portuguese School… I think that in almost every professional field we have a skilled, capable and respected community! These [professionals] are the real ambassadors of our country here.

MDT– The Portuguese community in Macau has a panoply of layers. How would you describe the Macau Portuguese community to your counterparts?
VS – The MSAR always had, has and will have a very strong and committed presence from the Portuguese community. The friendship between our peoples spans over five centuries. Do not forget that Macau is one of 24 sites of Portuguese origin outside the national territory classified as a World Heritage Site. This is a region that is always connected to Portugal in a very special way, honoring the feeling of Portuguese and Macanese.  In my opinion the Portuguese community knew how to read the history, understood the change and positioned itself strategically within the new social and economic dynamics, and Macau policies.
As the Chief Executive, Dr Fernando Chui Sai On, said once at the official residency, Macau is home to many Portuguese who live here, work here. They settled their families and will always be welcomed.

MDT– How is your relationship with the other diplomats based in HK/Macau?
VS – My relationship with my colleagues is tremendous. I know practically all the international diplomatic community in HKSAR. Of course I have a closer relationship with my colleagues from the European Union and some others of the Iberian-American countries. Here in Macau I give great importance and attention of the Portuguese Speaking Countries, counting with the presence of my colleagues from Mozambique and Angola. Let me tell you a secret, I think the only moment that my colleagues based in Hong Kong were really annoyed is during the annual football event between Hong Kong Consular Corps and Macau guests. Since 2013, I have chosen to play for Macau and I always score… (Laughs)

MDT– How do you coordinate activities with our ambassador in Beijing and the representatives in Shanghai, Hong Kong? What are the most common areas of activity?
VS – First of all, our personal relations are excellent. The fact that we arrived practically at the same time in 2013 brought us together in a good way. For the first time ever, in 2013 the Portuguese economic annual activity plan for the People’s Republic of China was prepared together with the help of Shanghai and Macau. Despite the fact that we are considered an Embassy, I took the decision to unite forces with our diplomatic representatives in Beijing and Shanghai. Together we are stronger, that’s our motto. Maybe that is the reason why we won the AICEP economic diplomacy annual prize, for two consecutive years. Since 2013 we have had very important and effective annual meetings with our commercial counsellors in Beijing, Shanghai and Macau.

MDT- And soon, also, the Guangzhou consulate…
VS – We are looking forward to opening our Consulate-General in Guangzhou in 2016! Our new colleague, Duarte Bué Alves already attended our last meeting in Macau as my special guest!

MDT- I know that some consulates are or were looking at moving from HK to Macau, like we did. What are the benefits and disadvantages of being in Macau vs HK?
VS – We are in Macau for obvious reasons. And we want to be in Macau forever. We have the obligation to help the Central Government and the MSAR Executive in transforming this land into a platform for the Portuguese Speaking Countries, to help the diversification of the territory and to help promote local talent. Due to our historical ties, we are indeed the only country that is 100% qualified to undertake this task. About HKSAR, these days it does not make much sense to reopen our diplomatic representation there.

MDT- What is your opinion of the Macao Forum? Some Portuguese in my circle say that they would not still be here if it wasn’t for this Beijing-led initiative?
VS –
Recognizing the potential of the Portuguese Speaking Countries, in the context of its external relations, China designed a strategy of strengthening ties with the Portuguese Speaking Countries (PSC), through the institutionalization of a privileged and united platform for the development of its economic and trade relations, with the creation in 2003 of the Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation, based in Macau. The Macao Forum is thus a clever diplomatic initiative from China to add a new dimension to its bilateral relations with the Portuguese Speaking Countries.

MDT- What can be improved to help relations between PRC and the Lusophone world?
VS – I believe that the work that the Macao Forum had been developing over the last 13 years has been very positive, namely in regards to training human resources, allowing the participants from the Portuguese Speaking Countries to learn and understand the Chinese perspective on subjects of general interest as well as to share their own experiences and knowledge. As you may know, in 2011, the Macau Forum created a training center in order to better organize these training seminars and since its creation, the Centre has organized, in collaboration with selected Macau universities, 28 workshops and attracted over 700 participants from the Lusophone world. These workshops cover a wide range of subjects that are of common interest to the Portuguese Speaking countries and to China and Macau. In addition to acquiring knowledge, the participants cement relationships, share experiences and build bridges between them which contribute to the establishment of potential partnerships.

MDT– Portugal-China, via Macau. How are the bilateral relations in this triangulation?
VS – Portugal, Macau and China are long-lasting partners and, more recently, we have been strengthening our relations in many areas. In evidence of this, between 2010 and 2015, Portuguese exports to Macau grew at an average of 16% per year; in the same period, trade between Portugal and China grew at a yearly average of 36%. Simultaneously, and as sign of this “new era,” the State-level visits between the three markets have increased at a vertiginous rate. Today, despite huge differences in our “geographies” (physical dimensions and location), we have similar priorities and challenges, and we are focused on the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship, science, education, environment and energy, and tourism. We all seek economic diversification and increased internationalization. We recognize that we share goals and that is essential to share resources, in a win-win-win strategy. In this ambitious triangulation, the role of Macau has been critical.  Since the handover and the establishment of the Macau SAR, Portugal and Macau have agreed to maintain solid bilateral relations. (…) Nowadays, the interface role of Macau has been significantly reinforced and the triangulation offers new perspectives.

Vitor Sereno, Portuguese consul general to Macau and Hong Kong.

MDT– Golden Visas. The program is still on and the Chinese are on top of the buyers’ list. What are you doing to contribute to this?
VS – The Golden Visa Scheme, which by the way is not a visa but rather a residence permit, has had several improvements over the years in order to respond better to the needs of potential applicants. In fact, among the growing number of European governments offering residence permits to non-­Europeans who invest in their countries, Portugal has been the most successful. The program is straightforward and flexible, with simple and clear legal requirements, and clearly one of the most attractive residency programs for investors in the world. As you know, the program has recently been enriched by diversifying the options of investment even further (see box).

MDT- You are perceived as a man of the community, dynamic, always available. You know your nickname (I shouldn’t say this) is… “Clark Kent/Superman” in the sense that you seem to attend to every problem. And you play football for the consulate team too…
VS – (Laughs) I think this attitude towards my community should be the normal one. I am here, paid by the Portuguese taxpayers. I need to be next to the people to listen not only to their problems but also to their advice. Accepting that a diplomat could live in a distant palace far away from reality and from the community that he represents is inconceivable to me…

MDT – One last question… You are an advocate of partnerships with private entities to improve the consulate facilities and services. But some in the community see it as “alienating the nation.” Can you comment?
VS – I fail to see how the nation is being alienated, and apparently so does the Portuguese government, since all those interventions are subject to prior approval.  But I can see the improvements that we have been able to introduce with the help of some partnerships, from which all – both the ones who agree and the ones who don’t – have clearly benefited and which wouldn’t be executable in any other way or, at least, not in this time frame. As I have stressed on different occasions, some of those changes have allowed us to deal with massive bottlenecks that have lasted for years and would only worsen with time. We work better and more efficiently, we offer a better service to Portugal, to the Portuguese and also to Macau SAR.

MDT– And a provocation: The city misses the old, grand Hotel Bela Vista. I know I do… Was it a good decision? What was the “trade off”?
VS – I don’t quite understand what you are trying to imply in your question. What I can stress is that, over the last three years, and thanks also to the renovation of the residence’s basement (now an exhibition area) and of the building itself, we have held more than 40 events (all open to the public). These have included several kinds of visual arts exhibitions, music performances, different product showcases, from fashion, design and wine tasting to books, and organized in partnership with both Portuguese and local promoters. On top of this, during the same period, more than 15 public ceremonies have taken place at the Bela Vista and not to mention the more institutional framework, regarding the hosting of more 50 official Portuguese delegations, who met with a number of local representatives – Portuguese and Chinese – in many different areas at the Bela Vista. And, of course, the big gathering of the Portuguese community which I welcome annually at the national day [June 10]. The old Bela Vista – which now looks new – has thus being performing an important role, serving the city and mostly strengthening the relations between Portugal and MSAR, between Portuguese and Chinese.

Golden Visa 2.0: More opportunities to invest in sunny Portugal

In addition to the previous conditions – capital transfer with a value equal to or above 1 million Euros; the creation of, at least, 10 job positions and the purchase of real estate property with a value equal to or above 500 thousand Euros – potential candidates of the Golden Visa Scheme can also make the following investments:
• 350 thousand Euros in the purchase of real estate property, with construction dating back more than 30 years, or located in ‘urban recovery areas’ for refurbishing;
• Capital transfer with a value equal to or above 350 thousand Euros for investing in research activities conducted by public or private scientific research institutions involved in the national scientific or technological systems;
• Capital transfer with a value equal to or above 250 thousand Euros for investing in artistic output or supporting the arts, for reconstruction or refurbishment of national heritage, through the local and central authorities, public institutions, public corporate sector, public foundations, private foundations of public interest, networked local authorities, local corporate sector organizations, local associations and public cultural associations, pursuing activities of artistic output, and reconstruction or maintenance of national heritage;
• Capital transfer with a value equal to or above 500 thousand Euros, for purchasing shares in investment funds or in venture capital geared to capitalize small and medium companies that, in turn, must present a feasible capitalization plan.

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