Special Report – The 0.07 per cent industry

In Macau there is already talk of a health industry based on traditional Chinese Medicine, but the fact of the matter is it’s only worth 0.07 per cent of the total GVA (gross value added) for all economic activities.

MB July 2021 Special Report | A patient hospital

Earlier this year the Chief Executive visited a pharmaceutical company in Guangdong Province, then stating that “the health industry will be another engine for the development of Macau’s economic diversification, a new element for building Macau into a World Centre for Tourism and Leisure”.

On the other hand, in the Policy Address Q and A session held last April in the Legislative Assembly Ho Iat Seng said Macau is working on the development of four new industries, with health among them being given highest priority.

In other words, the term “health industry”, lawmaker Wong Kit Cheng states, “has entered the heart of society and is one of the topics widely discussed”.

His colleague in the Assembly Zheng Anting agrees: “Committing to the development of the traditional Chinese medicine industry, making it one of the economic growth points of Macau, will contribute to economic diversification, helping the Government stabilise tax revenues and increase employment opportunities”.

In recent years, several institutions focused on this development have emerged, with the installation in Macau of the Stake Key Laboratory of Quality Research in Chinese Medicine, the creation in Hengqin of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Science and Technology Industrial Park of Co-operation between Guangdong and Macau (GMTCM Park) and, again in Macau, the establishment of the WHO Traditional Medicine Cooperation Centre. Their presence is “consolidating the bases for creation of the management system for traditional Chinese medicine,” says lawmaker Si Ka Lon, another deputy who believes that “the industry of traditional Chinese medicine is among the important aspects of diversification of the local economy” for which the Government deserves praise.

But are the efforts of the Government and the deputies’ willingness to affirm the existence of a “health industry” sufficient?


The truth is that, according to data from the Statistics and Census Bureau (see table on these pages), the combined GVA in 2019 for financial activities, the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) sector, the cultural industries and the Chinese medicine sector amounted to MOP36.01 billion, which accounts for 8.2 per cent of the total GVA for all economic activities.

But the GVA of the Chinese Medicine sector alone is just 0.07 per cent, a proportion that has remained unchanged since at least 2016.

“Society continues to question whether the GMTCM Park can fully take advantage of its bilateral platform to promote sufficient development of economic diversification in Macau” – Zheng Anting

With financial activities worth 6.81 per cent and the MICE and cultural industries just under 0.7 percent, yet growing at rates of over 30 percent, the traditional Chinese medicine industry’s growth rate of just 0.007 per cent is not keeping pace.

In fact, Chinese medicine was worth more in 2017 (MOP320m) than in 2019 (MOP316m).

Perhaps for this reason, the Government took advantage of opinions issued by the Commission of Audit on the costs of the GMTCM Park to suspend investment plans and initiatives, postponing the start of large-scale health projects that were already under construction and further stating that it expects to carry out a global assessment and adjust management based on what already exists.

“In view of the highly competitive international drug market, society continues to question whether the GMTCM Park can fully take advantage of its bilateral platform to promote development of economic diversification in Macau that is sufficient to achieve the objectives and predicted results,” lawmaker Zheng Anting believes.

The GMTCM Park, established in 2011, is jointly developed and managed by a company co-founded by Macau and Hengqin. By year-end 2019 the overall development of the GMTCM Park had begun to take shape, with the number of registered enterprises – engaged in Chinese medicine, health products, medical devices, medical services and other areas, according to official data – rising by 33 year-on-year to 144.

Health tourism

The Five-Year Development Plan of the MSAR (2016–2020) states that “innovative tourism products such as cultural tourism, leisure tourism, maritime tourism, health tourism and community tourism will be developed on an ongoing basis”. But the truth is the Government has never shown enthusiasm for this scenario, perhaps because it knows that only after the new hospital is fully operational and duly accredited, with the necessary health professionals hired, can one think of extending medical services to tourists in addition to the existing leisure offer.

“Health is the fundamental value of Macau’s development as a world-class leisure and tourism centre”, reads a paper from two University of Macau researchers, but it’s worth noting that all 12 of Hong Kong’s private hospitals were surveyed by the UK’s Trent Accreditation Scheme and have been accredited since early 2001; Singapore has a dozen hospitals and health centres with JCI (Joint Commission International) accreditation; and Thailand has 37 JCI-accredited hospitals.

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