Government needs to restart visits to China

  • Lusa
  • 31 May 2023

"There is a lack of greater involvement from the Portuguese government (...) so that we can make the leap to a new stage of development of bilateral relations."

The chairman of a Luso-Chinese business group said on Wednesday that the Portuguese government should resume visits to China with “maximum urgency,” with a view to boosting trade, investment and tourism with the world’s second-largest economy.

“I notice that there is a lack of greater involvement from the Portuguese government, greater attention from the Portuguese authorities so that we can make the leap to a new stage of development of bilateral relations,” PorCham president João Pedro Pereira told Lusa news agency at the end of a two-week visit to China.

“I think this is a very urgent issue, and I myself, after having been in China, have been in contact not only with the office of the prime minister, António Costa but also with the office of the secretary of state for internationalisation, Bernardo Ivo Cruz,” he said.

Pereira noted China’s potential in the electric mobility sector as the Asian country takes the lead in the automotive sector. Last year, nearly six million electric cars were sold in China – more than in all the other countries of the world put together.

The size of the Chinese market has propitiated the rise of local brands, including BYD, NIO or Xpeng, which now threaten the ‘status quo’ of an industry dominated for decades by German, Japanese and US manufacturers. Chinese dominance also extends to the battery industry: the Chinese companies CATL and BYD are the world’s largest manufacturers.

“Portugal has to work very hard with the decision-makers of these companies,” Pedro Pereira explained, adding that attracting Chinese tourists and Portuguese exports to China remain “below their potential”.

According to figures provided to Lusa by Tiago Brito, the permanent representative of Portugal Tourism in China, over 385,000 Chinese visited Portugal in 2019, the year before the pandemic. Tourists from China spent a total of 224 million euros in the country, a growth of 20% compared to 2018.

China, the world’s biggest emitter of tourists, kept its borders closed for almost three years under the “zero covid” policy, which was dismantled last December.

Since then, dozens of heads of state and government have visited Beijing, including the leaders of Germany, Brazil, Spain and France, attesting to the country’s growing economic and diplomatic weight.

Pereira, who met in China with 175 businesspeople and investors in four different cities, also pointed to the need to “demystify” the Portuguese government’s decision to end the ‘golden’ visa programme, the residence permits granted for investment activity. China is the country of origin of most investors.

“There have been many questions about whether Portugal continues to welcome foreign investment and Chinese investment because the end of the ‘golden visas’ passed the idea that Portugal is no longer as welcoming of Chinese investment as it was until then,” he explained. “You have to take care of the way the message is passed on,” he added.

The promotion events in China were organised in partnership with Cedrus Capital and World Trust Investments, two venture capital funds focused on the real estate, business and industrial sectors.

“We know that the Chinese market has a lot of liquidity and that there is a great development in the investment fund market,” Pedro Pereira pointed out.

“This is fundamental for a country like Portugal, which has a business design mostly composed of small and medium-sized enterprises, which have many difficulties in access to credit,” he said.

PorCham has 55 members, which represent a total turnover of €2.5 billion, including Chinese companies with interests in Portugal and Portuguese groups such as Sodécia, Delta Cafés and Quinta da Marmeleira. The business group also includes Banco Nacional Ultramarino, which has its headquarters in Macau.

With headquarters in Guangzhou, the biggest city in southern China, PorCham also has representative offices in Shanghai, the country’s economic “capital,” and on Hainan Island. The group opened a support and cultural activities space in Beijing this month.