2009 Investment Climate Statement - Macau

2009 Investment Climate Statement
Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs
February 2009

Openness to Foreign Investment

Macau became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China on December 20, 1999. Macau's status since reverting to Chinese sovereignty is defined in the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration (1987) and the Basic Law, Macau's constitution. Under the concept of "One Country, Two Systems" articulated in these documents, Macau is promised a high degree of autonomy in economic matters and its economic system is to remain unchanged for fifty years. Since reversion, the Macau Government has maintained a transparent, non-discriminatory and free market economy. Macau has separate membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Government hopes to diversify Macau's economy by attracting foreign investment and is committed to maintaining an investor-friendly environment. Corporate taxes are low. The tax rate is 12 percent for a company's net profits greater than US$ 37,500 (300,000 Patacas). For net profits less than US$ 37,500, the tax ranges from 3 percent to 12 percent. The top personal tax rate is 12 percent.

In 2002, the Government ended a long-standing gaming monopoly, awarding two gaming concessions to consortia with U.S. interests. This opening has encouraged very substantial U.S. investment in casinos and hotels, and has spurred exceptionally rapid economic growth over the last few years. Macau is positioning itself to be a regional center for gaming, incentive travel, conventions and tourism.

Macau and the PRC implemented a free trade agreement, the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), on January 1, 2004. The agreement is similar to the Hong Kong-PRC CEPA. As of 2008, it provided tariff-free access to Mainland China for all Macau-origin products and preferential treatment for 40 service sectors. In December 2005, the Government inaugurated the cross-border industrial zone located between the northern part of Macau and Zhuhai. Manufacturers have begun operating in the industrial zone, including one U.S. manufacturer of gaming tools.

Macau is heavily dependent on the gaming sector and tourism industries. In addition, a single product category, textiles and apparel, accounts for approximately 58.5 percent of its goods exports. Macau's textile and apparel exports decreased by 22.4 percent for the first nine months of 2008, a continued result of the elimination of the textile quota system at the end of 2004.

Foreign firms and individuals are free to establish companies, branches and representative offices without discrimination or undue regulation in Macau. There are no restrictions on the ownership of such establishments. Company directors are not required to be citizens of, or resident in, Macau.

The Government is liberalizing the telecommunications sector under a law passed in August 2001. Macau has liberalized the mobile phone market and Internet services. It has issued three mobile telephone licenses to two foreign companies and one local firm. In March 2005, the Government issued a license to a company operating a Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) network. In October 2006, the Government issued three 3G licenses, and 3G operators began providing their services in October 2007.

Certain requirements are imposed on three professional services sectors as described below. Under Macau law (Decree Law 14/95/M, 22/96M and 22/97/M), qualified professionals and executives may apply for the right of temporary residency.

  • Education - an individual applying to establish a school must have a Macau Certificate of Identity or have the right to reside in Macau. The principal of a school must be a Macau resident.
  • Newspapers and magazines - applicants must first apply for business registration and register with the Government Information Bureau as an organization or an individual. The publisher of a newspaper or magazine must be a Macau resident or have the right to reside in Macau.
  • Legal services - lawyers from foreign jurisdictions who seek to practice Macau law must first obtain residency in Macau. They also must pass an examination before they can register with the Lawyer's Association, a self-regulatory body. The examination is given in Chinese or Portuguese. After passing the examination, foreign lawyers are required to serve an 18-month internship before they are able to practice law in Macau.

Conversion and Transfer Policies

Profits and other funds associated with an investment, including investment capital, earnings, loan repayments, lease payments, and capital gains, can be freely converted and remitted. The domestic currency, Macau Official Pataca (MOP), is pegged to the Hong Kong Dollar at 1.03 and indirectly to the U.S. Dollar at an exchange rate of approximately MOP8.02 = US$1. The Monetary Authority of Macau, the de facto central bank, is committed to exchange rate stability through maintenance of the peg to the Hong Kong Dollar.

Although Macau imposes no restrictions on capital flows and foreign exchange operations, exporters are required to convert forty percent of foreign currency earnings into MOP. This legal requirement is not applied to tourism services.

Expropriation and Compensation

The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any expropriation actions. Expropriation of property may occur if it is in the public interest. In such cases, the Macau SAR Government will exchange the private property with an equivalent public property based on the valuation and conditions of the property. The exchange of property is in accordance with established principles of international law. There is no remunerative compensation.

Dispute Settlement

The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any investor-state disputes involving U.S. or other foreign investors or contractors and the Macau SAR Government. Private investment disputes are normally handled in the courts or via private negotiation. Alternatively, disputes may be referred to the Hong Kong International Arbitration Center.

Macau has an arbitration law (Decree 55/98/M), which adopts the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law for international commercial arbitration. The Macau SAR Government accepts international arbitration of investment disputes between itself and investors.

Macau's legal system is based on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. Macau has commercial and bankruptcy laws (Decree 40/99/M). Courts in Macau include the Court of Final Appeal, Intermediate Courts and Primary Courts. There is also an Administrative Court, which has jurisdiction over administrative and tax cases. These provide an effective means for enforcing property and contractual rights. Commercial and bankruptcy laws are written under the Macau Commercial Code (Decree 40/99/M). Macau's dramatic economic expansion in the last few years, combined with a shortage of qualified jurists, have put a strain on the operations of the judicial system, leading in some cases to delays in case resolution.

Performance Requirements and Incentives

To attract foreign investment, the Macau SAR Government offers investment incentives to investors on a national treatment basis. These incentives are contained in Decrees 23/98/M and 49/85/M and provided if companies can fulfill at least one of the following purposes: promoting economic diversification, contributing to promotion of exports to new unrestricted markets, promoting added value within their activity's value chain, or contributing to technical modernization. There is no requirement that nationals own shares. These incentives are categorized as fiscal incentives, financial incentives and export diversification incentives.

Fiscal incentives include full or partial exemption from profit/corporate tax, industrial tax, property tax, stamp duty for transfer of properties, and consumption tax. The tax incentives are consistent with the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures as they are neither export subsidies nor import substitution subsidies as defined in the WTO Agreement. Financial incentives include government-funded interest subsidies (ranging from 4-6 percent) on private bank Pataca loans for buying/leasing new equipment or construction/leasing of industrial buildings.

Export diversification incentives include subsidies given to companies and trade associations attending trade promotion activities organized by Macau Trade and Investment Promotion Institute. Only companies registered with Macau Economic Services may receive subsidies for costs of space rental and decoration, production of audio-visual materials, etc. Macau also provides other subsidies for the installation of anti-pollution equipment.

Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Macau law and regulations provide for the right of foreign and domestic private entities to establish, acquire and dispose of interests in business enterprises.

Protection of Property Rights

Macau is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization. Macau has acceded to the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Patents and trademarks are registered under Decree 97/99/M. Macau's copyright laws are TRIPS compatible and government offices are required to use only licensed software. The Macau SAR Government devotes considerable attention to intellectual property rights enforcement and coordinates with copyright holders. Source Identification Codes are stamped on all optical discs produced in Macau. Macau Economic Services uses an expedited prosecution arrangement to speed up punishment of accused retailers of pirated products.

The Macau SAR Government has devoted considerable resources to combating optical disc piracy in recent years and claims to have closed down all illicit optical disc production lines. Piracy of television signals (and much U.S.-origin program content) is rampant, however. The Government does not have a clear position on criminal liability for commercial end-use piracy of copyrighted works. The Consulate General has raised these issues with Macau officials and will continue to do so.

Transparency of Regulatory System

The Government has transparent policies and laws that establish clear rules and do not unnecessarily impede investment. The basic elements of a competition policy are set out in Macau's 1999 Commercial Code.

Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Macau allows free flows of financial resources. Foreign investors can obtain credit in the local financial market. At present, there are twenty-eight financial institutions in Macau, including twelve local banks and sixteen branches of banks incorporated outside Macau. In addition, there are eleven moneychangers, two cash remittance companies, two financial intermediaries, five exchange counters and one representative office of a financial institution. These institutions provide a range of credit instruments. Banks with capital originally from Mainland China and Portugal have a combined market share of about 66.9 percent of total deposits in the banking system. Total deposits amounted to US$ 23.3 billion in September 2008. In June 2008, banks in Macau maintained a capital adequacy ratio at 15.58 percent, well above the minimum eight percent recommended by the Bank for International Settlements. Accounting systems in Macau are consistent with international norms.

Macau has no stock market, but companies can seek a listing in Hong Kong's stock markets. There is cooperation between Macau and Hong Kong financial regulatory authorities.

Under the Macau Insurance Ordinance, the Monetary Authority authorizes and monitors insurance companies. There are eleven life insurance companies and thirteen non-life insurance companies in Macau. Total gross premium income from insurance services amounted to US$ 354.2 million in the first nine months of 2008.

Offshore finance businesses, including credit institutions, insurers, underwriters, and offshore trust management companies, are regulated and supervised by the Monetary Authority. Profits derived from offshore activities are fully exempted from all form of taxes.

Political Violence

Macau is politically stable. The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any incidents in recent years involving politically motivated damage to projects or installations.


Macau's anti-corruption agency is called the Commission Against Corruption (known by its Portuguese acronym CCAC). Te CCAC has powers of arrest and detention. Its budget and manpower have been increased in recent years. The number of complaints of corruption handled by CCAC has increased significantly as a result of these changes, Macau's explosive economic growth and a public outreach campaign.

The highest profile corruption charge was leveled at Macau's Secretary for Transport and Public Works, Ao Man Long, who was arrested in December 2006 for corruption. The CCAC reported that Ao had received bribes from real estate and construction companies in excess of US$23 million in return for contracts and approvals in 20 public works projects. Assisted by family members and others, Ao used shell companies in Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands to launder money. On January 30, 2008, he was convicted on 40 counts of bribe taking, 13 counts of money laundering, one count of holding assets from unknown sources and one count of incorrect declaration of assets. Ao was sentenced to 27 years in prison and US$31.5 million of his assets were seized, including assets not directly linked to his corruption and money laundering cases. His wife was sentenced in absentia to 23 years in jail. His father, younger brother and sister-in-law were convicted of 6-14 counts of money laundering, and were sentenced to 10-18 years. The CCAC's overall effectiveness remains constrained by legislation limiting the scope of its authority to government - but not private - sector corruption. However, the government plans to amend the law in 2009 to empower the CCAC to also investigate private sector corruption.

Bilateral Investment Agreements

Macau has signed investment protection agreements with Portugal and the Netherlands.

OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) coverage is not available in Macau.


Macau's unemployment rate in October 2008 was 3.1 percent, down from a high of 6.1 percent in 2003, primarily due to the increase in gaming facilities and hotels. Some shortages of skilled workers have developed. The government is studying proposals to resolve the human resources problem. Macau has labor importation schemes for unskilled and skilled workers who cannot be recruited locally. The Government is considering additional measures. The current migrant labor pool is approximately 103,153 out of a total workforce of 326,900. The Government is successfully using the proceeds of a 2005-implemented tax on the import of temporary workers for retraining local unemployed people.

Foreign-Trade Zones/Free Ports

Macau is a free port.

Foreign Direct Investment Statistics

According to the Direct Investment Statistics 2007 compiled by the Statistics and Census Service, there were 1,853 foreign direct investment companies in Macau, employing 78,341 workers. Hong Kong was the largest foreign investor in Macau, accounting for 59.1 percent of total foreign direct investment. The United States now exceeds Mainland China as the second largest foreign investor in Macau, accounting for 20.2 percent of foreign direct investment.

Table 1: Stock of foreign direct investment by country/territory, 2007
Country/Territory US$ Million % Share of Total
Hong Kong4,657.059.1
United States1,587.620.2
United Kingdom86.61.1

Source: Statistics and Census Service

Table 2: Stock of foreign direct investment by industry, 2007
Sector US$ Million % of Total
Banks and securities1,438.918.3
Industrial production350.14.4
Hotels and restaurants178.52.3
Transport, storage and communications126.51.6
Wholesale and retail404.15.1
Cultural, recreational and other services0.2
TOTAL7,877.6 100.0

Sources: Statistics and Census Service
Note: Total does not sum due to rounding.

Web Resources

Macao Special Administrative Region Government: http://www.macau.gov.mo
Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute - IPIM: http://www.ipim.gov.mo/en/index2.asp
Macau Fair & Trade Association: http://www.macaufta.com
World Trade Centre Macau: http://www.wtc-macau.com