17 March 2004

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Malta, Libya and beyond

Heading up the multi-faceted Geot Trading Co., Simon Diacono has garnered a wealth of expertise in international trading and project implementation ranging from Malta to Libya to Vietnam. Here he details the company’s history, some of the major it has carried out and offers some valuable advice on doing business in Libya

The company’s range of activities today cover a wide spectrum of activities – from large industrial contracts to marine products to the distribution of general goods and services overseas. What was the company’s initial focus when it was set up and how did it grow into the areas it encompasses today?
Following my first visit to Libya in 1976 as a fact-finding visit, I knew I would return in the future to try my luck again. Geot Trading Co. started on a small scale in 1994, exporting industrial equipment and lighting supplies to the Libyan market. Soon after, we undertook a service contract to refurbish a fleet of trucks for a Libyan company. This contract included various conversions and was carried out solely in Malta.
Following this contract, we decided to invest in a new technology in the hydro-blasting industry. The WOMA® hydro-blasting machine was the first of its kind ever imported into the Maltese Islands. The advantages of using this technology lie in the fact that one may blast without the added effects of sand or grit as the only medium is water not to mention the savings done on sand or grit as well as the clean up costs once a job is completed.
We naturally progressed to importing special paints that complement hydro-blasting – i.e. we can apply special paints directly on to wet metal thus decreasing the rusting effect. Following the appointment of the agency for Woma® and Euronavy® we progressed to market these superior quality brands both in the Maltese and Libyan market.

The company has worked on some large industrial projects, could you outline a handful of the most successful?
Our next milestone was the refurbishment of a large 50 x 70 meter aircraft hangar situated in Safi. This entailed the hydro-blasting of the whole structure, the application of special paint to the structure and the application of an epoxy-resin flooring.
Following an intensive marketing campaign in the local market, a number of reputable entities soon realised the cost-benefit effects of utilising this technology. We were entrusted with a number of contracts including hydro-blasting and painting a number of ships, steel structures in factories and wine vats as well as the application of epoxy-resin floorings in factories and a private hospital. We were also contracted to hydro-blast a large quantity of drilling pipes and on one occasion carried out the same operation off-shore.
Some of the company’s initial activities also included the supply of generator sets and allied equipment to the Libyan market. It was our pleasure in 1999 to be entrusted with the sourcing, supply, erection and commissioning of a large tent, circa 1,200 square meters. This included air-conditioning, drapes, telephony, lighting, carpeting and complete electrical installation. It was a logistical nightmare, however, together with our principals, contractors and dedicated staff we completed and handed over in 22 days. The project was a great success and gave all involved tremendous satisfaction. At the same time we supplied and installed new seating at Tripoli International Airport.
The following year, in March 2001, we were entrusted with the refurbishment of Tripoli Airport Standby Power station. This involved the overhauling of four large diesel engines and alternators and an upgrade of some of the electrical installations. This was done as per scope as well ensuring that the power station was always functional.
In the same year, the company decided to widen its market and decided to probe the Vietnamese market. Joining forces with selected foreign suppliers together with the invaluable help of the foreign section of Bank of Valletta, we were successful in our initial venture.
During this exciting period, the company’s range of activities grew and expanded at a fast rate focusing only on meeting the customer’s ever increasing expectations. Other services and products included the supply and installation of an ID card system for Tripoli International Airport and Libyan Arab Airlines as well as the supply of a number of tuna containers.
Following an evaluation of the present and future business environments, the company has focused its range of activities to focus and specialise on the following main areas: industrial floorings, hydro-blasting, speciality paints, pneumatic tube, systems and the refurbishment and supply of trucks, speciality trucks, heavy and earth moving machinery to the Libyan market.
Some major milestones achieved above include: 40,000 square meters of flooring at the new Playmobil factory in Hal Far; the installation and commissioning of a state of the art pneumatic tube system for Mater Dei hospital, as well as the refurbishment of a fleet of fire fighting vehicles for Tripoli Civil Protection department.

How would you describe the business environment in Libya today?
Libya is a land of many opportunities. The country is rich in culture and natural resources. Although many may think of Libya as an oil rich country, Libya’s 1,900 km of Mediterranean coast is only one of the many riches it can boast of. Scattered along its beautiful coast are numerous spectacular Roman remains on the side of Tripoli as well as Greek remains on the Benghazi side. Coupled with this is the impressing and silent Libyan desert as well as various ancient villages such as Ghat.
However, although many may think of Libya as an easy way of making business, these are in for some surprises. Understanding the ways of doing business in Libya is a crucial step forward. Perseverance and patience is the next. However, it is my opinion that the best approach is that of creating and eventually maintaining customer relationships. This is only achieved through honesty integrity and responsibility.
We are there for the duration, not for the quick buck.
With the gradual opening up of the Libyan economy, what opportunities do you see developing for Malta as a country and for the Maltese businessman in particular?
As the Libyan market is gradually opening up, Malta’s position is still somewhat undefined. This is due to various elements. On the one hand, the Maltese government’s involvement is very poor. To mention just one example, the issue of visas has not yet been defined.
Maltese businessmen and their Libyan counterparts are still lurking in the dark and do not know what will happen as of 1 May 2004.
On the other hand, our European partners are very aware of the existing opportunities and are not losing time in paving their way in the market.
Malta’s competitive advantage lies in its understanding of the Libyan ways of doing business. This can be exploited to create a link between the European and Libyan entities.
Furthermore, Malta’s labour costs are still low as compared to Europe whereas our standards are equivalent to European ones.
In my case – the service industry – a crucial competitive advantage is the quick response time to any queries from our clients. I sincerely hope we do not loose this edge after joining the EU on 1 May. All efforts must be made to ensure this advantage.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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