Malta, an island-state with a population of 420,000, is the maritime hub of Europe and is set to hold the next Presidency of the European Union starting 2017. Although trade with India is proportionately small, Malta’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, Stephen Borg, has big plans for increasing the volume. THE BLUE MOON Editor Amit Mittal spoke to the newly appointed High Commissioner on his ambitious plans. Some Excerpts:
Malta had focussed on six specific areas and had set targets to be achieved by 2015. The Maltese Prime Minister had suggested that India could be Malta’s partner in the development of these identified areas which were financial services, ICT, tourism, manufacturing, education and shipping. What has been the outcome in each of these sectors?
These are the areas where we can develop strong partnerships. In education we are working actively and since my arrival we have signed a number of memoranda between the University of Malta and prestigious Indian universities. The University of Malta has developed over its long history a strong tradition in a number of domains. Strong partnerships in research, engineering, medicine and ICT could be of tremendous benefit to both Malta and India. I engage regularly with educational institutes across India and it is a very rewarding part of my work here.
In the maritime domain Malta has done a lot to integrate its various services through an integrated maritime policy. This has made it a leading maritime centre. As regards shipping, Malta has a very strong flag and one of the largest and most reputable shipping registries in the world. I have had some very fruitful meetings at Government level and there is lot of potential for cooperation. We have earned a very good reputation internationally when it comes to shipping and a number of areas important to us including aquaculture, coastal tourism, trans-shipment, and logistics.
As far as health services are concerned, Malta has been a provider of healthcare since the island came under the rule of the Knights of Malta in the 16th century. We have very good private and government hospitals and we are known for medical tourism. There are now also a number of Indian pharmaceutical companies with production facilities in Malta.
In the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, the Maltese side had suggested the setting up of a ‘cloud’ concept through which India, EU and North Africa could be virtually networked, what happened to the project?
The idea emerged in light of the fact that smart cities are present in both countries. The manufacturing sector is very important for us; we are strategically placed, equidistant from Europe and North Africa, and can count on excellent infrastructure, banking, healthcare, English as the official language and a conducive business environment. Our economy is doing well. Our growth rate at 6.3% GDP in 2015 compared to the EU average has been remarkable. Our economy has proved to be resilient. The size of the domestic market is of course not comparable with India but the access that can be offered to the European and African continents is one of our strong points.
Tourism must be important for the country’s economy?
Although it is difficult to estimate, given the ripple effect, tourism accounts for more or less 15% of our GDP. Malta, a country of 4,20,000, receives 1.6 million tourists every year, growing year after year. Our traditional tourism markets are in Western Europe but there is huge potential from new markets such as India and China.
As far as tourism with India, have the numbers gone up in past 5 year?
The numbers have gone up significantly in recent years. We have just started to be discovered by wedding groups from India. This is a market which is set to grow. Moreover Malta is an ideal film location. There are several natural locations for film shoots on the Maltese islands that are close to each other thus minimising expense and time. It is therefore easy to shoot. We have registered several successes with Hollywood, including with some well known TV shows. We have a dedicated Film Commissioner who is expected to visit India this coming February to encourage the Bollywood industry to look at Malta as a venue. We have a set of incentives for filming in Malta.
With bilateral trade between India and Malta at USD 356 million and the small Maltese population, can there be a chance of increase?
There is potential, because there is interest. There are a number of Maltese companies interested to invest and manufacture in India. We put a strong premium on innovative products given our economy and we hope that they can take advantage of the current climate promoting investment in India.
OVL of India had sent a team to explore the opportunities in hydrocarbons sector, what has been the outcome?
Explorations have been made to discover oil in the past but so far we have not discovered any gas or oil. Malta’s economy is a service based economy built on creativity and resilience rather than natural resources.
In April 2014 a high level delegation led by CII visited Malta at the invitation of Malta Enterprise to scout for business opportunities, were the Indian companies able to establish commercial contacts, any positive result so far?
Yes I am aware of the visit in 2014. While I do not have specific details on the outcome of the visit I am aware that a number of Indian companies are established in Malta particularly in the pharmaceutical and life sciences sector. There are companies which are interested in working in Malta given our location and I am working on this.
Malta quit NAM and G-77 to bring its policies into line with the EU, now is it going to quit CHOGM?
I believe Malta has evolved over the years and made some good choices along its history such as that of joining the European Union in 2004. It remains a member of the Commonwealth, which is not incompatible with EU membership. After joining EU we accepted the Euro as our currency in 2008 and became part of the Schengen area in 2007. EU membership has given us many advantages. It has helped us to transform into a strong and open economy while offering a wide breadth of cultural and educational opportunities for our youth . Overall it was a good decision. From January 2017 the Presidency of the European Union falls to Malta. We have set three priorities for this period which include the Mediterranean, migration and maritime affairs.
And to top it all, Valletta, the Maltese capital, will be the cultural Capital of Europe in 2018. This will be a splendid occasion to showcase the beauty of our islands and our rich culture.