Bi-partisan approach on crucial issues is essential!

“We believe that in the current economic climate, the Opposition has to instill a more constructive national dialogue about the country’s future.”

These were the words of Ms Marisa Xuereb, President of the Malta Chamber, during the presentation of the organisation’s pre-budget recommendations to an Opposition delegation led by PN leader Dr Bernard Grech.

Addressing the meeting, Ms Xuereb noted how the process undertaken by The Malta Chamber aimed at proposing solid policy recommendations to the decision makers of the country for a better and more resilient Malta. “Difficult decisions in 2022 will be urgently needed and the business community expects that after the next general election a reform programme is initiated to allow the country to once again make sure that all its institutions are fully functioning and independent of any political involvement.” Ms Xuereb urged the leader of the Opposition to show his mantle and establish a bi-partisan approach towards the key challenges being faced by the country.

This introduction, was followed by a presentation of the key recommendations, delivered by the Malta Chamber’s CEO Dr Marthese Portelli which focused on issues such as Governance and international reputation, human capital, digitalisation, sustainability and economic recovery.

It was noted how the Chamber was once again taking a proactive approach and has made concrete suggestions totalling almost 200 between sectoral and horizontal proposals which impact all sectors.

Dr Portelli said that it is crucial that in the run up to the next general election, the two parties do not fall into the traditional populist trap but instead they should focus on proposals which bring a vision which the country so badly needs. She also insisted on the need for “a bi-partisan approach is urgently required in terms of Malta’s regional aid status”. She said a concerted effort is required as the EU remained intransigent in its application of rules relating the matter. She reiterated the Chamber’s position that Malta due to its insularity, peripherality and small market size cannot be placed on the same level as other states which are vastly larger.

She explained how islands much larger than Malta are allowed to provide regional aid measures to compensate for their added operating costs due to the geographic insularity, simply because they are considered island regions rather than island states. This situation proposes an unfair disadvantage in terms of investment aid and freight and logistics costs to Malta’s manufacturing and import and export sectors.

In conclusion, the Chamber President once again underlined the several areas of convergence between the Chamber and the Opposition’s long-term ambitions for the economy and the country.

Ms Xuereb was flanked by CEO Marthese Portelli, the Chamber’s Deputy President Chris Vassallo Cesareo, Vice-President Nick Xuereb, Head of Policy Andre’ Fenech and Head of Members Relations Kevin Mizzi. The Chamber’s proposals were also previously presented to the Prime Minister, a number of cabinet members as well as the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD).


Towards a more business friendly EU

Earlier this year, the EU launched the Conference on the Future of Europe; a once in a generation opportunity for citizens and business to engage and voice their views and suggestions directly through a series of dedicated events organised at local level.
The EU evolved substantially over the last decades, however the integration project is ongoing. Nonetheless, EU member states, stakeholders, and citizens, still have differing views as to what the future role of the EU should be.

Message by MBB President Alison Mizzi

“All aspects of business operations are decided at EU level through the various policies and legislation. There is no doubt that the European Single Market and free trade brought about substantial benefits. The temporary closure of borders in the past year and a half due to the global pandemic reminded us of the cost of non-Europe.

Yet are EU policies and legislations today adequately business friendly or sufficiently ambitious to meet challenges dealing with digitalization, innovation, and the labour market? Do businesses feel that the EU is sensitive and understanding of the problems companies face on a daily basis?

Addressing climate change and building a social Europe are part of our European values, but to what extent and cost to the economy and economic competitiveness?”

The Malta Business Bureau in collaboration with EUROCHAMBRES are organising a business seminar on Thursday 23rd September (09.30-11.30) and will include breakout sessions about the future of the single market and the European economy, the future of environment and sustainability in the EU, and the future of work.

More information and registration can be made here.

Atlas employees clean up plastic and rubbish from various coastal areas

Over 20 employees of Atlas Insurance spent a day cleaning various coastal areas in Malta as part of the company’s voluntary leave day initiative. A total of 51 bags of plastic and sea debris were collected from various seaside locations on the North-western coast.

During this clean-up, #TeamAtlas collected floating debris from the sea, from the seabed, and swam to the coast to collect rubbish there, before bringing it back to their respective boats. The team was treated to lunch courtesy of Atlas as well as some time off to enjoy the rest of the day at sea.

“We are passionate about the environment we live in and the contribution we can make, however small, to help rid the sea from the harmful plastic and other debris,” said Jackie Attard Montalto, Chief Human Resources Officer. “This is part of our wellbeing strategy, which looks at our people holistically to enusre we contribute positively to all aspects of people’s lives, dedicating significant resources to our people’s wellbeing and our contribution to our society.”

“This was one of our first teambuilding events after the long months of lockdown and restrictions, and it was great to return and be able to enjoy each other’s company while doing something so beneficial and satisfying,” she continued. “I thank all those involved and my colleagues for their sterling work.”

This has been the second clean-up this summer. Last month, a few #TeamAtlas members carried out a similar initiative and managed to collect over 34 bags of plastic and sea debris. That clean-up was inspired by the amazing work done by Mark Galea Pace to reduce sea pollution, safeguard marine flora and fauna. Galea Pace himself took part in that initiative, inspiring Atlas to organise out their own clean-up with more team members.

Atlas offers its employees the possibility to take extra annual leave days, known as voluntary leave days, to contribute towards various causes and in line with the company’s ESG drive towards sustainability and environmental initiatives. In 2020, prior to the pandemic, Atlas Insurance had teamed up with the environment rejuvenation movement Saġġar and contributed in a hands-on manner towards this national initiative aimed at planting one million trees in Malta. Four teams from Atlas amounting to over 60 people spent a working day at Saġġar’s working facility in Wardija, and the days off were given as one of the two extra voluntary leave days provided by the company.

HSBC Malta renews Gold Partnership with The Malta Chamber

HSBC Bank Malta has renewed its long-standing Gold Partnership Agreement with The Malta Chamber in order to further enhance their joint efforts in support of the Maltese business community. The agreement was signed by HSBC Malta’s Head of Commercial Banking Joyce Grech and Malta Chamber President Marisa Xuereb and Deputy President Chris Vassallo Cesareo.

By virtue of the Gold Partnership, HSBC will continue to support the Chamber’s ongoing operations while at the same time creating unique joint events through which the bank makes its global expertise available to members. This co-operation has been enhanced during the Covid-19 pandemic through the organisation of numerous virtual seminars to help companies navigate this challenging period.

The partnership also enables Chamber members to leverage HSBC’s international footprint including its Trade and Payments and cash management capabilities such as HSBCnet, the world leading cash management solution for businesses, and its foreign exchange and payment capabilities. The breadth and depth of these capabilities open up new opportunities for businesses of all sizes and across multiple sectors.

Marisa Xuereb, President of The Malta Chamber of Commerce, said: “HSBC Bank and The Malta Chamber go back a long way. Through this strategic alliance, The Malta Chamber was able to organise numerous events and webinars on an array of subjects which are of interest to Malta Chamber members as well as all businesses at large. All events were very well attended, and extremely informative. This important partnership will further allow the two entities to explore joint opportunities for the benefit of the business community in Malta.”

Joyce Grech, Head of Commercial Banking at HSBC Malta said: “The Malta Chamber and HSBC Malta have worked together for many years, combining our expertise to support the Maltese business community. This collaboration is also beneficial to HSBC as it puts us close to the business community and allows us to strengthen and deepen relationships with the Chamber’s members.”

A reputable competitive Island-State

“Next month’s budget needs to determine the country’s foreseeable future by addressing immediate challenges the country is currently facing” the President of the Chamber Ms Marisa Xuereb said in her introduction.

Ms Xuereb also stated that “The Chamber once again calls on government not to embark on a populist agenda, a so-called electoral budget, but one which directs the economy towards recovery with difficult decisions expected to be made in 2022”.

The discussion also included a presentation by the Chamber’s CEO Dr Marthese Portelli about key proposals pushed by The Malta Chamber, based on 6 themes, namely economic growth and recovery, good governance, human capital and education, digitalisation, sustainability, and internationalisation.

Most proposals address the erosion of the country’s competitiveness and the need strive towards economic resilience. Some of the key proposals include:
• Addressing the constant increase in public sector employment, as it runs contrary to business competitiveness to have a situation where Government is indirectly soliciting human capital from the private sector. The Chamber propose the possibility of secondment of underemployed resources to the private sector and limiting employment in the public sector 1 year prior to the Constitutional expiration period to call a General Election.
• Mitigating ever increasing shortages in the labour market through appropriate streamlining of existing quarantine procedures for those travelling from specific countries. The Malta Chamber also proposes the introduction of more measures to retain foreign workers by establishing a citizenship pathway for those who wish to become Maltese citizens and allow for family reunification.
• Providing Maltese businesses with solutions for those who require human resources from or have contracts of work in third countries, such as, installing a testing and vaccination facility within embassies in corridor country with frequent direct flight connections to Malta as well as to the third countries of interest to Malta.
• The additional 7 days of quarantine leave for non-vaccinated employees should be taken from personal leave (excluding justified cases on medical grounds).
• Addressing the reduction of administrative burdens and bureaucracy for enterprises, by addressing the need to streamline cross Governmental departmental data and render support and funding schemes more business friendly.
• The importance of establishing a centralised due diligence body with all the necessary intelligence, access rights and international connections to evaluate every new investor / shareholder / UBO before accepted to have business interests in Malta.
• Immediately embarking on a demographic carrying capacity analysis to map out solutions for spatial development and planning, labour market and economic vision.
• Introducing revised Night Tariffs to assist manufacturing, retail and HORECA segments. Night tariffs should be available at a lower energy consumption threshold and the advantage of the night tariff over the daytime rate needs to be higher. The Malta Chamber is also suggesting an extend night tariff from the current bracket of 22.00-06.00hrs to at least 22.00-08.00hrs.

In her presentation, Dr Portelli also specified “the need to adopt a more ingrained microstate policy mindset and the need to start a proper discussion dedicated to the specific permanent handicaps of island states within the European single market.” Malta is increasing facing supply chain challenges, coupled with potential emerging ones deriving from discussions at OECD level to introduce a global harmonised corporate tax, limiting the country’s manoeuvrability in terms of attracting and retaining foreign investors on the island.

Dr Portelli further commented that “the recognition of Malta’s island state revamped status within the ambit of EU Competition Policy will provide fiscal manoeuvrability on investment aid and assistance addressing cross-country logistics and transportation. It is therefore essential that a national case is presented to the European Union reflecting Malta’s insularity, peripherality and small market size”.

The above list of recommendations is not exhaustive. The Malta Chamber presented 200 macro and sectoral recommendations following extensive consultations with its members and sector groups.

Government and Opposition should join forces and advocate an ‘EU Strategic Framework for Islands’

The Malta Chamber has been actively working on island peripherality economic implications for close to a decade, with facts in hand evidencing how being removed from the ‘hub’ of activity of the central European market, as a micro island state, is equivalent to extra costs and loss of competitiveness.

The Chamber was reacting to the Opposition’s proposal announcing a fund to mitigate added costs impacting our potential to trade internationally, welcoming the recommendation, together with other proposals rendering the Customs Department easier to do business.

“Being the business organisation which best represents manufacturers, importers, distributors, freight forwarders, logistics, ship agents and ports, we welcome the Opposition’s fund to alleviate the pressures undergone by these stakeholders in our supply value chain, whose products frequently result more costly just because they originate from an island at the EU periphery. At the same time, we believe that while the Opposition proposal is an effective pain relief, it is not a cure, reason being that the fund compensates for just a fraction of the significant disadvantage being carried by our businesses, reflected into a dire cost for the local economy” remarked Marisa Xuereb, Malta Chamber President.

In a joint statement, the Malta Chamber Chairperson of the Manufacturer’s Economic Group, Mr Brian Muscat and Malta Chamber Chairperson of the Importers, Distributors and Retailers Economic Group, Mr Marcel K. Mifsud said that the fund “is an effective first step to bring to the fore a challenge which operators have had to endure for years, which ideally would be complemented with supplementary measures addressing other anti-competitive local costs which have been dragging for years”.

The Malta Chamber observes that sourcing funds from the national budget will alleviate pressures on operators in the value chain. It adds that given the larger dimension of compensation required for the current significant disadvantage, a case for Malta as an Island Micro Nation State should be made at EU level.

“At times there are one-size-fits-all policies at EU level which may function imperfectly if such support policies do not allow compensating for various and distinct expressions of EU periphery. We therefore believe that while the Opposition has placed its finger on the right button to address competitiveness, there is much more we should do towards effectively addressing ‘the cure’ of longer travelling times for export, which result into a significant competitive disadvantage for our local industry” – Marisa Xuereb, Malta Chamber President.

The Malta Chamber therefore calls for Government and Opposition to come together to effectively advocate an EU Strategic Framework for Islands.

Key Recommendations for the Viability of Gozo based on its Uniqueness

The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry and the Gozo Business Chamber held a joint Council meeting in Gozo in which they discussed issues of common concern and proposals for the sustainable economic development of Gozo.

Both Chambers have identified key issues effecting Gozo’s viability in terms of business growth, employment, and other issues which need to be addressed without delay.

The Malta Chamber and The Gozo Chamber are proposing the following 10 key recommendations to address these challenges:

1. Upgrading of the infrastructure at the ports of Mġarr Gozo, Ċirkewwa and Valletta to better support the existing transport links between Malta and Gozo in terms of mooring facilities, accessibility, neighbouring parking facilities, and connecting alternative mobility services.

2. Better coordination in the scheduling of multimodal transport links between Malta and Gozo to minimise waiting time, particularly by ensuring that the scheduled bus service coincides with the ferry arrival time.

3. Use of technology to utilise the capacity of existing transport links better, such as booking facilities, and the incentivisation of commercial transportation during off-peak hours.

4. A robust assessment of the carrying capacity of the entire transport network of both Malta and Gozo to ensure that any infrastructural or service developments linking the two islands are not rendered ineffective by bottlenecks within the network.

5. A new fully-fledged hospital in Gozo that would meet the requirements of a University hospital for the Queen Mary University of London Campus in Gozo and provide a more complete health service in Gozo.

6. Innovative policies to attract investment in Gozo in niches in which Gozo can develop as a national competence centre in its own right rather than as a second option to Malta.

7. Policies that have bipartisan support to better regulate development protecting the unique natural, historical and cultural environment of Gozo.

8. A detailed, long-term and comprehensive exercise in urban planning to ensure the long-term viability of a good quality of life in both Malta and Gozo in the future.

9. The revision and adoption of policies to conserve the natural environment and water resources in both Malta and Gozo, ensuring the survival of agriculture as well as reducing its vulnerability due to the dependency on reverse osmosis plants and boreholes for water generation and supply.

10. Control on the proliferation of single-room developments in Outside Development Zones that eventually expand into more extensive developments.

Both Chambers reiterate their firm belief that Gozo’s uniqueness can contribute directly to its economic development and growth, leading to enhanced national competitiveness. This potential win-win for Malta and Gozo intrinsically relies on our thoughtful and judicious use of Gozitan landscape, respecting the island’s culture and authenticity.