Opening address by President George Abela at the Qatari-Maltese Business Forum in Doha last Thursday
I would like to begin by saying that it is my pleasure to inaugurate this first ever Malta/Qatar Business Forum and from the onset I am confident that today’s meeting will lay the foundation-stone for a new phase of Qatari/Maltese economic and commercial relations. I want to thank the Government of the State of Qatar, especially His Highness the Amir and the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the support they have given to the hosting of this business meeting.
This happens to be my first State Visit since I assumed office as President of the Republic of Malta in April of this year. It is indeed a great privilege for me to be in this prosperous and fascinating capital city of Qatar, a country which has witnessed incredible transformation in recent years. Though Qatar’s main thrust of its ambitious investment programme is still, and rightly so, in the gas sector, I note with interest how Qatar is projecting itself as a regional hub for knowledge, education and research together with high value industrial activities. Similarly, Malta is strongly positioning itself as a financial, trading, logistics and high-tech manufacturing centre in Southern Europe. Malta considers its skilled English speaking and dynamic workforce to be its major strength and has, for this reason, placed education and training high on its agenda.
It is thus clear that, in spite of the distance between us and the diversity in some aspects of our economies, our two countries are embarking on similar future paths of expansion and development and there are several areas where we can benefit from each others’ experiences and work together. Our common concerns as small nations allow us to be versatile and flexible and provide us with a sound foundation for a common approach to our countries’ structural reforms and global economic challenges. Our two countries have much to offer to each other in different ways.
I urge the business delegations here present today to take advantage of the distinct complementarities that exist as a result of our Mediterranean/Gulf strategic locations. With its central location in the Mediterranean, a sea that has been throughout history a busy thoroughfare for economic and cultural exchanges, Malta has always been considered as a bridge between Europe and North Africa. This particular role has been further strengthened following the accession of Malta to the European Union five years ago.
I have no doubt that by targeting Malta as a Member State of the European Union and of the Eurozone, Qatari businesses cannot only reap the economic benefits of the much wider market of 500 million consumers of the other twenty six member states but also those of North Africa and the Middle East which are intrinsically linked to the European market through the Euromed agreements. The opening in two months time in Malta of the office between the European Commission and the Arab League gives credit to Malta’s active commitment to further peace, security, and economic stability across the Euro-Mediterranean geo-strategic region.
I am also pleased to note that a number of Maltese companies are already operating successfully in Qatar in various areas including the financial services, hospitality, telecommunications and cultural sectors. I am honoured to announce today a major step forward in Maltese/Qatari business relations. I am referring to the deal struck between Lufthansa Technik Malta and Qatari Airways in the aviation engineering sphere which is definitely a milestone in economic cooperation between our two countries.
Needless to say, Maltese companies are keen to cooperate further in these and other sectors. Representatives of companies engaged in various services including consultancy and legal, architectural and civil engineering, education and training, healthcare and dentistry, security and fire-fighting form part of my delegation. I am confident that there is much that they can pursue with their counterparts here.
A relatively new sector for Malta and which I believe offers exceptional prospects for collaboration is Islamic Banking and Finance as Malta is aiming to become a Centre of Islamic Finance in the Mediterranean. Qatari Islamic financial institutions wanting to spearhead the growth of Shariah-compliant finance in the Mediterranean can benefit from the cost-efficient opportunities that Malta presents by using Malta as the efficient gateway to neighbouring European and North African Markets.
I believe there is great scope for cooperation between our two friendly countries in other fields including maritime activities, the wide spectrum of financial services, higher education and information and communications technology. As regards tourism, it is to be noted that the number of Maltese nationals visiting the Gulf has increased noticeably in recent years. The decision by the Malta Tourism Authority to open a representative office in Dubai to tap the Gulf market is a step in the right direction. Malta, with its history going back more than 5,000 years and a rich cultural heritage, has many attractions for Gulf tourists. Arabs will be surprised to find themselves even more at home in Malta because of the fact that the Maltese language has its roots in Arabic and they will feel comfortable with our people.
Promising opportunities for direct foreign investment, joint ventures and transfer of technology in various sectors between our two countries have to be exploited. External trade exchanges between our two countries are much below their potential and can be enhanced further. In this respect, the Free Trade Agreement being negotiated between the European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries can only serve to strengthen our trading relationship.
The visit to Qatar by this large group of Maltese businesses at this period of unprecedented global economic slowdown demonstrates the unfaltering confidence of our entrepreneurs to do business and to internationalise. The signing of the Double Taxation Agreement as well as the one on Air Services in the course of this State Visit will facilitate the business climate between our two countries.
The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Legal Field and the one relating to Sports will also continue to strengthen our excellent bilateral relations. Having been deeply involved in the administration of sports - especially football - in Malta for many years, I must congratulate the State of Qatar for having been selected to host in 2011 both the 4th outdoor Asian Games and the Asian Football Cup finals and all this after the successful organisation of the 15th Asian Games in December 2006. I am also pleased to note that Qatar has launched bids to stage the FIFA World Cup finals and I wish the Qatar Football Federation good luck in its efforts.
I sincerely hope that today’s forum will be more than a gathering of businessmen and I strongly encourage Maltese and Qatari delegates to utilise this valuable opportunity to network and to explore partnership opportunities. I would like to wish you success in your business endeavours. Finally, let me take this opportunity to invite Qatar Businesses for a return visit to Malta and work hard together to develop a follow-up mechanism to address our common interests and sustainable business relationships.