Libyan-Maltese Chamber of Commerce President Anthony Micallef sees a great deal of opportunities emerging from Malta’s southern neighbour and gives some advice on dealing with the country, which is poised to burst onto the international business scene. Here he speaks to David Lindsay.
Libyan-Maltese Chamber of Commerce President Anthony Micallef is a 20-year veteran of carrying out business with Libya and is well versed in both the pros and cons of dealing with Malta’s southern neighbour.
In fact, he recently represented Maltese business interests – joined by the Corinthia Group’s Alfred Pisani, UCIM’s Prof. John Mamo and LAFICO Chairman Dr George Cassar - during President Guido de Marco’s recent state visit to Libya, the results of which he describes as very positive.
“Our last trip with the President to Libya was very positive, particularly in discussing the implications on Maltese-Libyan relations in light of Malta’s upcoming EU membership, on which there was a general consensus that the development would be beneficial for both countries.
“Colonel Ghaddafi’s message to President de Marco during the state visit was that Malta should receive a lot of attention from Libya in this respect since it was the country that, during the period of international sanctions, always gave a lot of support to Libya. Journalists did ask what Libya’s reaction was to Malta joining the EU was, to which the Libyan leader answered very straight to the point: ‘this means we would have one foot inside Europe because Malta could voice its impression of Libya so the other European countries would know more about who we are’.
“In the past with the sanctions against Libya it was more difficult and in many cases prohibitive to doing business with the country and the Maltese were the nationality that travelled to Libya consistently despite the difficulties in reaching the country while air traffic was suspended.
“In principle Libya offers a lot of business opportunities, but of course there is a lot of competition there now. When you go to Libya now you see delegations from all over the world. When I was there last I saw people from the US and Italy and just one day after we left with the President, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi paid a visit as well. The US has also re-established a diplomatic presence and is working very hard for all the remaining sanctions to be lifted.
“But for Maltese companies, especially new companies looking for inroads into the Libyan market, it is essential that they make regular visits - they have to study the markets and be competitive. In Libya, once you become trusted and they believe you’re honest, they give you the business.
“In a nutshell I would say that looking from the business side, there is a lot of competition prevailing - it’s not a question of simply entering the Libyan market from one day to the next. You have to plan properly, carry out market research, you have to make a business study and find the right partner. Libya is opening its doors and it wants the best products. The market has already grown. For example, today every brand of car is represented on the market whereas in the past there was only one brand imported by the government.
“As such, the private sector is quite open at present but I would say it still needs another three years for the economy to really become organised in such a way that companies will be able to properly capitalise upon it.
“Today we are seeing a situation in which in which a lot of products are pouring into Libya. But in terms of exporting goods into the country there is a new law, Law No. 5, [also see pages 14 and 15] which says that any product or well-known brand needs to be distributed through a Libyan organisation. So you have to enter into a partnership or appoint an agent to look after your interests and of course this relationship would continue to grow if you offer the support and the Libyan side distributes.
“We as a business, Office Technology, are looking in that direction. We have a good partner and distribution channel. This channel works through our partner and our partner works through us. This is what I would encourage other like-minded companies to do.”
There are also a number of projects coming up in Libya such as exhibitions and fairs, a major tourism infrastructure development and even a bid to jointly host the World Cup in 2010 with Tunisia – at an estimated expense of USD12 billion.
And one cannot, by any means, exclude Libya’s oil sector.
Mr Micallef explains, “Of course there is a lot of talk about administration work in the oil sector, which is the strength of the Libyan economy. This means that if the a country such as the US were to go in and organise the administrative aspect of the sector, this would generate a greater flow of business in respect of more volume in oil productions and this would, in turn, increase the possibilities of greater investments in other sectors as well.
“As the Maltese-Libyan Chamber of Commerce we organise a lot of activities such as exhibitions and trade missions. Of course there is the former Malta External Trade Corporation, now part of Malta Enterprise, which organises many trade missions for specific fields of business and the government is also encouraging these kind of activities.”
On Malta’s accession to the EU, Mr Micallef cites mixed emotions amongst the Libyan public.
“I think that the general public’s opinion was that the Maltese would no longer be the Maltese that they knew, once Malta joins the EU. However, after the last state visit and the comments from the leader that Malta could be a voice for Libya to other European countries, this perception was altered for the better.
“Malta made it very clear that it is a very important being in the centre of the Mediterranean and to look for peace and to develop strong relations with neighbours.
“Just look at what Libya is doing with Italy - which is doing so well in contracts such as in the Libya-Italy pipeline project. Germany, France, UK are also all building up in Libya too, so I don’t see that they would be so against us joining Europe. But more positively, once the service is supplied or the product is good, the business can grow exponentially.
“One way this could be done would be for an EU company to have products they would want to promote in Libya and they can use Maltese companies, appoint them as distributors. The distributors could be the marketing company and Libya would open its arms if a Maltese company goes there representing an EU, American or Australian company and say ‘why don’t we do the business together’ – that is another big advantage for Maltese business.”