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    Mr Leša said, adding that China was "more than a country; it is a crucial reference that may, over the new millennium, become a vital factor in a new world order."

    Francis Tam Pak-yuen, Secretary for Economy and Finance of the Macau SAR, opened the conference's first session with a detailed overview of the issues involved. "China's entry into the WTO constitutes an historic leap in China's involvement in the international community that will have a profound impact on its future".

    Mr Tam emphasised that China's entry into the WTO would bring about "both opportunities and challenges" for Macau. On the positive side, Macau's business community would have greater trading and investment opportunities in the Mainland. On the negative side, Macau's status as a "bridge" between the Chinese Mainland and overseas markets would be challenged by the fact that Mainland enterprises would have "more direct access to the world markets" after Beijing's accession to the WTO.

    "Opportunities themselves imply challenges, and challenges are, in turn, full of opportunities," Mr Tam said, adding that "opportunities are the reward for facing these challenges." He urged Macau's businessmen to react to the challenges by raising their competitiveness.

    "Theforere, we must strive for reform, openness, competitiveness and a modern ideology, as well as improve the free market and establish a legal framework and administrative system in line with international practice, in order to create a free, open and fair competitive market environment with a strict but clear legal system," Mr Tam said about his vision of Macau's future after China's entry into the WTO.

    "I believe that as long as we are united, work together and pool our ideas and strengths, we can definitely seize the opportunities and challenges, so that the driving force of China's entry into the WTO can usher in a new era for Macau's economy."

    Speaking on behalf of the U.S. Government, Michael Klosson, U.S. Consul General for Hong Kong and Macau said, "overall, I believe Macau will benefit from the development of its historical role as a gateway to China. Macau's economy and market, while small, have their strengths: low rents, a convenient new airport where landing slots are still available, a well-developed tourism and leisure industry, reasonable warehouse facilities for logistics centres, and easy access to the booming Pearl River Delta."

    Mr Klosson stressed that "Macau also has the services capability - in backroom support, telecommunications, and especially training - to support the expansion of business operations with the Mainland. The Special Administrative Region's free market policies can serve as a model for others in the region. It is important to remember, however, that this role - and, indeed Macau's continued prosperity, are guaranteed by its rule of law, convertible currency, free flow of information, and active participation in international and trade organisations - all things that business need to prosper in an increasingly internationalised market place."

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