Big in Japan

Make no mistake. The Maltese have already started using diplomatic channels to tap the Japanese market

Minister Carmelo Abela (front, centre) with members of the Malta-Japan Chamber of Commerce
Minister Carmelo Abela (front, centre) with members of the Malta-Japan Chamber of Commerce

By Carmelo Abela

Carmelo Abela is Minister for Foreign Affairs

A leading cause of disengagement from the European Union is the fact that policy makers fail to explain what they are doing to improve people’s lives. This was seen in the Brexit campaign, where a lot of people from rural areas opted to vote out, as the policies that were supposed to be reaching them, didn’t appear to do so.

In certain regards, foreign affairs can fall privy to the same illnesses that cloud the European Union. The work that diplomats do, like the work that the European Union does, is sometimes perceived as being something out of this world that only the select few have access to.

Yet this could not be more wrong, and as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion, I have made it my priority to show tangible results of how diplomacy can affect our lives.

On this note, last week at a meeting with the Japan-Malta Chamber of Commerce, I was pleased to learn that that there are a lot of Maltese businesses who want to do business with Japan, and likewise a number of Japanese who would like to do business and even want to invest in Malta, including a Japanese bank.

This news came at the right time, as right now the Ministry is working on finding premises for a Maltese Embassy in Tokyo.

Make no mistake. The Maltese have already started using diplomatic channels to tap the Japanese market. One of the first businesses who started doing this was the Debono Group, and, as their Managing Director Geoffrey Debono explained, this Group were the first to import a Japanese vehicle to Europe more than fifty years ago.

Yet now, thanks to the sterling work of our Non-Resident Ambassador to Japan, André Spiteri, as well as to the allocation of more resources from our end towards this cause, we are also noticing an increase of activity by small and medium enterprises in this regard.

While in the past it was the bigger companies that wanted to venture abroad and expand towards the horizon, nowadays we are seeing smaller companies that are taking the leap to internationalise.

This has been effectively done by Karl Schembri from GSE School.

GSE School is a family run language school which tapped into the Japanese market and, as of now, is bringing a substantial number of students from Japan to Malta to improve their English.  

Apart from that, as I was told by the General Manager of AVI Film, Robert Cassar, the trade delegation to Japan that was led by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat last year, which I was part of, worked wonders as connections were made that helped open up the doors of opportunity for those companies taking part.

AVI Film is one such company that achieved success in doing business with Japan. Merely some five years ago, the company employed seven while the turnover was around €600,000 annually. This figure has now risen to €5 million thanks to connections in Japan and elsewhere, while those employed by the company having increased to forty.

In 2019, we can see that Japan is a very important trading partner for our country as Malta exports roughly €150 million worth of goods and services to Japan, while we import around €67 million worth.

Meanwhile, incoming tourism from Japan reached a record of 22,863 arrivals in 2018.

Per capita expenditure increased to €1,615 whereas the average tourist spends around €809 while in Malta.

Total expenditure in 2018 for Japanese tourists reached €36 million.

On the other hand, incoming Japanese students reached a new record of 3,508 students last year with a 20% increase on 2017.

These figures mean that we have a sizeable trade surplus which we are keen to continue stabilising and potentially increase thanks to a Maltese Embassy that will serve as our gateway to Japan.

Apart from the economic aspect, the Embassy will also assist Maltese citizens travelling to Japan and also to support the increasing number of Maltese citizens that have decided to settle in the land of the rising sun.

Such is the power of diplomacy, where by using diplomatic tools we can bring jobs and economic growth to Malta by working hand in hand with the private sector and stakeholders.  

Building bridges through diplomacy has been the aim of the Foreign Ministry since 1971, when the then Prime Minister, Dom Mintoff, stated that foreign policy should be used for the benefit of Malta and the Maltese.

It goes without saying that it is with great pleasure that we are following in this trend.

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