20 - 26 June , 2001

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Two nations on the verge of EU membership

Malta Chamber of Commerce President, John E. Sullivan, addressed the a meeting convened for the visit of Slovak Prime Minister Mikulás Dzurinda. Mr Sullivan compares the likenesses between the two countries’ economies and the areas in which synergies could be developed.

On behalf of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, it is my great honour to welcome you to our historic premises. We are also privileged to learn that you expressed a specific wish to meet members of the business community on this visit. Allow me to say, Honourable Prime Minister that our Chamber is indeed a worthy forum for such a meeting. Unlike other chambers in mainland Europe, the Malta Chamber of Commerce is an autonomous institution established as a private law constituted body in 1848. Membership to the Chamber is voluntary.

Our membership is made up of entrepreneurs representing both manufacturing and services including mainly importation as well as information technology.

Although our islands cover a much smaller area than the Slovak Republic, both our countries can be safely described as relatively small compared to bigger European countries like Germany and France. At 380,000, our population is smaller than that in your capital city Bratislava and slightly larger than Kosice.

Both economies seem to be expanding at a similar rate and our per capita output is more or less comparable. As a result both countries are currently experiencing challenging and exciting times characterised by rapid transitions and economic restructuring. Most of all, our countries are shaping up for eventual entry into the European Union – certainly a historic and momentous step for both Republics. Our meeting here today should certainly serve to exchange mutual views and experiences enabling us to learn from each other and proceed in our future path with a more knowledgeable, hence confident approach.

Our country has a long tradition of international business dating back to the Phoenician times. It has always been dependent on foreign trade, both because of its advantageous geographical location on one hand, as well as its severe shortage of natural resources on the other. Hence, our decision to trade is conditioned partly by choice and partly by necessity.

Today, Malta is the ninth most trade dependent economy in the world. The European Union is perceived by our nation as a catalyst for free and unfettered trade between the present 15 EU member states and hopefully, in the not too distant future, also with the other eleven countries whose membership application is currently pending before the Commission.

Regrettably, trade between our two countries may certainly not be described as bountiful. Just before today’s meeting I was given some official statistics which state that Maltese imports from your country totalled a mere US$ 570,000 in the year 2000 – even lower than the US$ 830,000 figure recorded in 1996. These imports consisted mainly of iron and steel, machinery and mechanical products. On the other hand Malta’s exports to Slovakia stood at US$ 850,000 last year.

Our exports consisted mainly of products of the printing industry but also included machinery and mechanical products. I am an optimist by nature, and take heart from such figures even though they are somewhat on the low side. This is because I feel that trade between our countries can only expand and one of our main objectives as the national Chamber of Commerce is indeed to foster greater trade links between our countries for the benefit of both our economies and particularly our members. Similar considerations also apply for the tourism links between both countries, which also stand at insignificantly low levels.

We are keen to learn more about your international trade activity. We have read in an OECD report that in 1999 you exported US$ 10.2 billion worth of goods and imported around US$ 11.3 billion. Like ourselves, your major trading partner is the European Union although I am sure that your neighbouring states of the Czech Republic and Poland play a significant role in your trade.

Honourable Prime Minister, Malta has no natural resources except its people. As I explained earlier, our long tradition as a trading nation is not conditioned merely by choice. In order to manufacture and export we need to import all raw materials. Hence, there is scope for the fostering of a business relationship which is mutually beneficial for both countries.

Referring to the structural changes occurring in both our economies, I note that a rapid modernisation process is taking place in your economy. We again have many common aspects in this regard and I am sure we can learn a lot from each other’s experiences. Like Slovakia, our country too was dependent on the defence industry – so much so that it was referred to as "a Fortress Economy" until the late seventies.

Consequently, Malta had to become totally self-sufficient and our economic activity was generated by the collective effort of the public and private sectors. During this period, the island relied heavily on tourism and the manufacturing industry to earn foreign currency. Through its active privatisation process, the public sector is gradually retracting from direct economic involvement, vacating more space for private initiative. We are keen to attract foreign direct investment to benefit from employment considerations, capital injections and transfer of technology. To this end, the Maltese Government has just published the "Business Promotion Act" outlining the relevant incentives in this regard.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt