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Five things to know about Portugal

A paradise for European retirees that has opened its arms to Chinese foreign investment, Portugal will hold a general election on Sunday. Here are five things to know about the country:

– Magnet for pensioners –

Foreigners eyeing a place in the sun for their retirement are drawn to Portugal because of its extensive coastline, mild weather, affordable real estate — and generous tax incentives.

Under a measure introduced in 2009 as the country plunged into a debt crisis, pensions from abroad can be drawn tax-free in Portugal for a decade in a bid to attract foreign investment and give the real estate market a boost.

As a result thousands of retirees, mainly from Britain, France and Italy, have moved to the country, which is sometimes dubbed “Europe’s Florida”.

And some 10,000 retirees have even moved their fiscal residence permanently to the country, according to government figures.

Lisbon, Portugal’s hilly capital, and the seaside resorts of the southern Algarve coast, have seen the biggest influx of retirees.

– Yuans pour in –

During Portugal’s debt crisis when few countries were willing to invest in what was one of the weakest links in the eurozone, Lisbon encouraged Chinese investment in several troubled flagship Portuguese firms such as electrical company EDP, power grid operator REN and the country’s biggest private bank, BCP.

Total Chinese investment in Portugal by businesses and private citizens is estimated by the government at around 10 billion euros ($11 billion), which accounts for roughly 5 percent of the country’s GDP.

– Diplomatic success –

A founding member of NATO in 1949 which joined the European Union in 1986, Portugal has punched above its weight diplomatically in recent years, having posted several top politicians at the head of key international organisations.

Portugal’s former Socialist prime minister Antonio Guterres in 2017 became the United Nations Secretary-General while the country’s current finance minister, Mario Centeno, was that year nominated the head of the Eurogroup, which is made of finance ministers from the eurozone.

Former European commissioner Antonio Vitorino has since 2018 headed the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the top United Nations migration job.

Portugal’s former centre-right prime minister Jose Manuel Durao Barros headed the European Commission between 2004 and 2014.

– Land of emigration –

Portugal is home to some 10.2 million people and another 2.2 Portuguese live abroad, including 1.5 million in other European nations.

If the descendants of migrants are counted, the size of the Portuguese diaspora around the world stands at roughly five million people.

France is home to the biggest foreign Portuguese community, totalling around 600,000 people. Around 16 percent of tiny Luxembourg’s population of just over 600,000 are Portuguese.

Some 1.4 million Portuguese nationals living abroad are registered in the electoral rolls and are eligible to vote on Sunday. They represent 13.6 percent of the total electorate.

– Cork champion –

Portugal is the world’s largest cork producer. It accounts for nearly half of the world’s cork output, producing 100,000 tonnes annually, according to the Portuguese Cork Association.

Cork is made from the bark of the cork oak (Quercus suber), which cover a total of 737,000 hectares of land in Portugal, more than in any other country.

Portuguese cork producers have sought to diversify its use beyond wine bottle stoppers, with the material increasingly used as building insulation as well as in footwear, furniture and even the aerospace industry.