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Malta plays its cards right

Article - January 8, 2015

This island nation has had much to celebrate in 2014, including being one of Europe’s top economic performers, as well as several milestone anniversaries: independence, becoming a republic and EU entry


This is a banner year in Malta and the island nation strategically located smack in the centre of the Mediterranean has had a lot to celebrate in 2014 – and not only its decade of European Union membership, 40 years as a republic and a half century of independence from the United Kingdom.

Another reason for hoisting the champagne glasses is that last year the country registered GDP growth of 2.4 per cent, one of the highest growth rates among the 27 members of the European Union while the other Eurozone economies contracted by 0.4 per cent.

And little Malta, along with European powerhouse Germany, were the only EU states to experience job growth from 2002 to 2012. In the recent economic storms buffeting the rest of Europe and the world, Malta managed to remain on course to prosperity, with its financial and banking systems remaining stable throughout. 

“Malta of today doesn’t just stand on its own two feet; it punches above its weight,” boasts Prime Minister Dr Joseph Muscat. “We are a respected independent nation, part of the European mainstream, enjoying excellent relations with our neighbours and countries worldwide.”

“Being among the best in Europe is not a tagline anymore, it is becoming a reality. We are among the top-ranking EU countries for people in work, our growth figures are going up and our deficit is going down,” he says.

Owen Bonnici, Minister of Justice, Culture and Local Government, notes: “We changed from an economy built on war to one built on prosperity, services, tourism, and on the need of providing fresh solutions to economic questions. Malta has managed to use its geographical position and the talent of our people to build this prosperity together.”

“The European Commission and credit rating agencies have had words of praise for our country, recognising that Malta is moving in the right direction. This in no way means that we have achieved enough. We will aim higher,” Dr Muscat promises.

International investors are taking the PM at his word. The most recent IBM Global Location Trends Report ranked Malta as number two in the world for the quality of the foreign direct investment (FDI) it attracts, just behind leader Ireland but ahead of such stellar investment destinations as Denmark, South Korea, Japan and Sweden.

Well-trained workers, low labour costs and membership in the European Union are just some of the factors attracting FDI, along with the country’s geographic location, English as an official language and a tight, yet flexible regulatory regime.

According to government data, Malta lured 36 completely new FDI projects in 2013 and authorities approved another 17 new ones in the first half of this year, with the fastest growing sectors involved in health-related activities, precision engineering and others requiring a high degree of digital creativity.

Baxter International, the US-based health products manufacturer, recently announced it was adding 190 jobs at its Maltese plant producing medical disposable sets for the infusion of solutions and blood transfusions, proving its trust in the country’s competitiveness as an investment location and in the skills of the local labour force.

And another new FDI project is a joint venture with International Energy Group of Singapore to develop Malta into a trading hub for energy products between Europe and Asia with the first transactions scheduled to be carried out in 2015.

“Malta may be a small investment destination, but foreign investors know that it is ideal for their needs because there is an international language, reliable and flexible connections and Malta boasts a workable environment,” says Maltese Minister of Finance Professor Edward Scicluna.

Another sector enjoying healthy growth is iGaming, thanks to comprehensive legislation which has made Malta the gaming capital of Europe adding another booming industry to those already well-established ones of manufacturing, trade and, of course, tourism. 

When most people think of Malta its beaches and sunny days come immediately to mind, and International Living magazine recently rated the country as having the best climate worldwide.

Overseas visitors know this, and more and more are arriving each year, making tourism one of the country’s main economic sectors. In 2013, tourist arrivals hit 1.6 million, up almost 10 per cent over the previous year, while expenditure by visitors rose 9 per cent compared to 2012.

And why do they come? Agreeable weather (no surprise there) was among the main reasons cited by 57 per cent of tourists surveyed by the Malta Tourism Authority, followed by the country’s historical and cultural attractions at 40 per cent and value for money at 32 per cent. 

Malta, in short, has a lot to offer the world whether it’s a great holiday destination or a place to do business, and, as the prime minister argues, despite its size, the country has vast potential.

“Throughout our long history, Malta has managed to reinvent its economy, its success, its own self by always being innovative in its outlook,” he said in a recent speech in New York City. “This means that Malta has always been much more important than its small size would lead one to believe.”