28 MAY 2003

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Tony Abela calls for micro level competitiveness

At yesterday’s national conference "Maximising Malta’s Competitiveness Potential" Economic Services Parliamentary Secretary Tony Abela stressed the essentiality of competitiveness and the importance for "the individual company at the micro level to be competitive in order to enhance national competitiveness."
Abela, however, said the public sector had an important role to play in this regard, not least of which by taking a lead in placing competitive on top of the policy agenda, and taking the lead in removing bottlenecks when these occur.
Abela expressed his ministry’s support to the conference organised by Professor Lino Briguglio and Gordon Cordina, saying this augured well for the future involvement of the academic community in such issues:
"The need to focus on Malta’s competitiveness has long been felt. When Malta became independent in 1964, competitiveness in international trade was considered as a primary requisite for economic development of the country. It has featured prominently in government policy during the past four decades, and given centre stage since 1990, when the Nationalist government applied to join the European Union.
"In spite of the importance assigned to competitiveness over the years, there has not been a real coherent approach in dealing with competitiveness. I note with pleasure that this conference is an important step towards this end."
Abela said the co-relation and synergy of competition and competitiveness required were so interconnected that one cannot exist without the other:
"In Malta, the Consumer and Competition Division within the Ministry for Finance and Economic Affairs, caters for competition policy in Malta and is responsible for the enforcement of the Competition Act, which is modelled on EU legislation.
"This Division is charged with monitoring the market and looking out for any possible restrictive practice taking place or infringements of any of the provisions of the various consumer laws and market surveillance under the Product Safety Act so as to ensure that only safe products are put on the market. The Division carries out investigations including searches where necessary leading to submission of reports to the Commission for Fair Trading or to the Courts.
"I wish to take the opportunity to emphasise the point that the ability of a country to withstand international competition cannot be attained unless there is an efficient competition regime within the country. The institutional setup in Malta, which I briefly described, is an important underlying requisite for international competitiveness."
Abela said the introduction of competition law in Malta strengthened the awareness that "success in business should be based on efficiency." Prior to the enactment of the Competition Act, business in Malta was characterised by restrictive practices and collusion, which to a large extent sheltered actors from competition: "This mentality also somewhat worked against international competitiveness, and led many businesses to clamour for protection and financial support from public sources."
"Secondly, competition legislation tends to develop the culture that good quality products and quality standards matter enormously in business. Previously it was taken for granted by consumers that they were to accept inferior quality products. With the adoption of the EU acquis high quality production is becoming a reality.
"Thirdly, competition legislation ushers in a culture of fair trading, where the business community is encouraged to compete on a level playing field, and where the players, including consumers, are given proper right of redress and those who infringe are adequately censored."
Emphasising competitiveness as a prerequisite for the improvement of living standards, Abela said Malta had reached a level of high employment, so that the attraction of new more productive business will find it increasingly difficult to access idle resources:
"We need therefore to also induce labour mobility and change. Such transformation requires flexibility in the attitudes of the social partners and an efficient public administration, committed to uphold competitiveness."

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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