The government will act "expeditiously" to make arrangements for the transfer of fugitives between Hong Kong and Macau, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said.
But a legal academic questioned whether an arrangement to move criminals between the special administrative regions would apply to two high-profile Hong Kong businessmen whose case put the issue in the spotlight.
Yuen was speaking after Hong Kong developers Joseph Lau Luen-hung and Steven Lo Kit-sing were found guilty of corruption and money-laundering by a Macau court last month. The pair were each sentenced to five years and three months in prison, but will not serve the sentences unless they return to the former Portuguese enclave.
Yuen said officials of the two cities' justice departments were working on arrangements for the surrender of fugitives "in the context of mutual legal assistance" and that talks could soon involve higher-level officials.
"As we understand both Macau and Hong Kong residents are concerned about the matter, we both hope to exert all effort to handle the matter expeditiously and positively," Yuen said, adding that he could not set an exact timetable. He said legislation would be needed in both cities after a deal was agreed.
Yuen said it would not be appropriate to describe the arrangement as "extradition", which is defined as the transfer of fugitives between countries.
Professor Simon Young Ngai-man, of the University of Hong Kong's law faculty, said it remained unclear whether any new law would apply to Lau and Lo, given the governments "can include a clause saying that the law has no retrospective effect".
If concluded, the agreement will "break new ground" by becoming the first agreement on the surrender of fugitives between two Chinese jurisdictions, he noted. Neither Hong Kong nor Macau have such an arrangement with the mainland.
University of Macau legal academic Professor Lok Wai-kin suggested last month that the difference in legal systems between the cities might pose a problem. Hong Kong follows common law, while Macau law follows a civil code as used in much of continental Europe.