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    Che first Economic Co-operation Forum between China and Portuguese-speaking countries will be held in Macau in mid-October, the Macau government has announced.

    A government spokesman said the three-day forum was scheduled to take place on October 12-14. Initially, the ministerial-level meeting was slated to be held in September. However, the fact that several of the participants planned to attend the fifth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation in September had convinced the organisers to reschedule the forum, the spokesman said. The forum will be the first of its kind between China and the Portuguese-speaking world that comprises some 220 million people on four continents, 176 million of them in Brazil.

    The forum will be held by China's trade ministry in conjunction with the Macau government.

    According to an economic affairs official of the Macau government, Beijing has invited seven of the world's eight Portuguese-speaking countries to the forum: Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, and the world's newest nation, East Timor. The officials said the underdeveloped Atlantic island state of Sao Tome and Principe, which has just some 175,000 residents, had been not invited by Beijing because of its so-called diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

    The forum, which is slated to be held every three years, is an initiative of the central Chinese government, which is understood to be eager to promote Macau as a business-platform for its trade, investment and cultural ties with the Portuguese-speaking world. Macau has historic links with most of the Portuguese-speaking countries, namely East Timor, Mozambique, and Portugal that ruled the enclave for four centuries until its reversion to Chinese administration in 1999.

    However, all the Portuguese countries combined have a share of just around one per cent in Macau's external merchandise trade. Macau government officials insist the point is not to turn Macau into an entrepot for trade between China and the Portuguese-speaking world but to promote its role as a business-service platform between the two sides.

    Portuguese continues to be an official language in Macau, some two per cent of whose 442,000 residents are Portuguese expatriates and local-born people of mixed Portuguese and Chinese descent.

    East Timor's foreign minister, Jose Ramos Horta, said during a visit to Macau in July his government intended to turn Macau into its "nerve centre" for trade, investment and cultural ties with East Asia, namely the Greater China area. Ramos Horta also said East Timor planned to open a permanent trade and investment mission in Macau next year.


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