Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to thank the Libyan – Maltese Chamber of Commerce for organising this seminar and for inviting me to deliver these concluding remarks.
This is indeed a timely event. Libya is passing through what is undoubtedly one of the most interesting periods in its long history and in which, it is worth remembering, Malta played a significant role when it acted as a humanitarian hub during the crisis of 2011.
Today, slightly more than three years after the declaration of liberation, Libya continues to face significant challenges, especially in the government’s efforts to bolster security and strengthen stability in the country.
I wish to reiterate our unreserved strong condemnation for all acts of violence irrespective of who the perpetrators are. We will continue to fully support any actions which the Libyan authorities and people take to make the country more stable and to develop a democratic, political system.
Despite this situation, it is encouraging and quite remarkable how Libyan authorities are continuing to work to develop a democratic society and a free market economy. It is clearly in everyone’s interest that they succeed in developing Libya into a stable and prosperous country irrespective of how long the process will take. Anything to the contrary may have negative spill over effects on Libya’s neighbours. As one of Libya’s immediate neighbours, this is a major concern for Malta, be it in terms of making us a less attractive location for international business or in increasing the number of refugees arriving on our shores. It might also have a negative impact on other countries in the region currently facing their own challenges in their struggle to forge out their new destinies.
I can state with conviction what is already clear to all: Malta and Libya continue to enjoy good, long established political and economic relations. Diplomatic relations were established soon after Malta gained its independence and have continued to flourish ever since in all spheres - political, economic or cultural. Political contacts continue unabated as clearly indicated by the continuous exchange of official delegations as well as by the convening of the 27th Session of the Malta-Libya Joint Commission in Malta last November to discuss deeper bilateral cooperation in the fields of home affairs, the economy, health, energy, culture and education, amongst others.
Economic relations remain equally strong. A bilateral Double Taxation Agreement is in force, facilitating investment between the two countries. In 2013, Maltese exports to Libya grew by 19.1 per cent to nearly €238 million whilst imports increased by 10.7 per cent to €113 million. Indeed, Malta’s trade balance with Libya has been favourable for some time. Malta Enterprise continues to operate a representative office in Tripoli, facilitating business links between the two sides as reflected in the participation of Maltese entities in the various trade fairs. It is also noteworthy that the number of Libyan visitors which visited Malta in 2013 stood at 34,621, double that recorded in 2012.
Moreover, fully aware of the importance of having strong institutions in order to develop a country politically and economically, Malta continues to assist Libya in building up its administrative capacities by providing training for its public sector agencies and authorities.
Malta has also expressed its support for Libya in international fora. Indeed, I had the opportunity to do so once again when I met my fellow EU Foreign Ministers in the Foreign Affairs Council held earlier this month in Brussels. During that meeting, I expressed Malta’s unwavering commitment to a peaceful democratic transition in that country and reiterated Malta’s call that the EU must increase its engagement with Libya and enhance its visibility there.
Malta has also given its full support to the EU’s initiatives to support Libya. We are looking forward to the conclusion of a contractual relationship between the EU and Libya and to the assistance being given to support the transition to a democratic, stable and prosperous country by addressing the need for a diversified economy. Malta is also participating in the EUBAM Libya programme which has, as its objective, the development of the capacity for enhancing the security of the country’s borders in the short term and to develop a broader Integrated Border Management strategy in the longer term. Malta believes that EUBAM Libya is very much in the interest of both the EU and Libya and plays a leading role in safeguarding regional security in the Mediterranean.
We have also participated in several international conferences related to security issues including the Second Regional Conference on Borders and Security held in Morocco last November. We are looking forward to the international ‘Rome Conference’ being held on 6th March which could serve as an excellent opportunity for the international community to enhance its support towards Libya.
On a bilateral level, Malta itself has also provided assistance to help Libya build up its capacities in the security field. The Government of Malta is willing to provide training in several areas including combating economic crime, migration matters, drug investigation techniques, dog training, vice squad training, as well as community policing.
Malta welcomes and supports the efforts made by the Libyan government to enhance its profile at the international level, including its participation in 5+5 meetings as well as its application to become an OSCE Partner for Co-Operation which was submitted in June 2013. Indeed I expressed Malta’s full support for the inclusion of Libya into the family of the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation during the OSCE Ministerial meeting held in Kiev last December since we believe that the OSCE is equipped to help Libya build its democratic institutions, help it foster respect for human rights and the rule of law, as well as address the problems associated with the proliferation of light weapons. This issue was also highlighted by the Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister, H.E. Mr. Abdel Razak Grady, when he addressed the security dialogue of the OSCE’s Forum for Security Cooperation which is currently being chaired by Malta. Moreover, fully consistent with our policy of promoting Euro-Mediterranean dialogue and security, we fully welcome Libya’s participation in the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) as an active observer.
The efforts made to stabilise Libya should significantly improve the business climate in the country. Libya possesses substantial reserves of fossil fuels and also has significant import requirements. It needs to develop its physical and IT infrastructural facilities, including telecoms, power, water and transportation. Moreover, Libya wants to attract foreign direct investment and develop its non-oil sectors in order to generate thousands of employment opportunities for the large number of Libyans seeking work, especially its young population.
These factors create the right framework for our two countries to continue strengthening their bilateral economic relations. I am fully aware that Maltese entrepreneurs are doing their utmost to exploit these economic opportunities as they arise. Other encouraging developments have taken place. The agreement reached last year through which a significant investment will be made in Ta’ Giorni to create the right facilities for the training of Libyan students was a step in the right direction. Malta’s existing involvement in Libya’s tourism sector is well known and additional opportunities could develop in the future. Libya can learn from Malta’s experiences in this field and the two sides can continue to exploit the bilateral agreement on cooperation in this sector. Malta can also become an energy hub for Libya following the agreement reached last year.
Malta also has the potential to market itself as a base for those foreign entrepreneurs who are interested in doing business with Libya, including those from distant regions such as the USA and Asia. The excellent political relations which we have established with Libya create the right atmosphere for this hub concept to develop further. Moreover, the fiscal and other incentives on offer, the availability of skilled English speaking professionals, a sound legal system, the existing air and sea connections as well as a sophisticated telecommunications system make Malta an ideal location for those interested in doing business in Libya. Malta could be used for the establishment of back offices as well as for the transhipment of goods which, given our central geographical location, could be easily stored here and promptly delivered as required.
Manufacturing companies could be encouraged to establish plants for the production of goods and services for which there is a demand in North Africa, such as power generation equipment, water technology and irrigation systems, switchgear, telecoms and projects of an industrial nature. Maltese entrepreneurs can also use the experience they have gained over the years in the Libyan market and establish partnerships, joint ventures or strategic alliances with those foreign entities interested in establishing a foothold in Libya.
This also applies for those countries in the region interested in establishing links with Libya. Maltese business entities can team up with their counterparts in the Maghreb and the Mashreq, as well as Southern Europe, to forge partnerships and exploit opportunities. The potential exists and so does the interest in establishing cooperation in this manner. Malta is an ideal location to act as such a hub given its long standing excellent relations and links with all the countries in the region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Please rest assured that my Ministry stands ready to do its utmost to assist in the development of economic relations between Malta and Libya. Since assuming my responsibilities last year, I have made it clear on numerous occasions that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs will play a stronger role in promoting trade and investment to Malta. Our network of diplomatic representations and honorary consuls are working to promote our country by organising events on their own as well as by assisting other organisations, such as Malta Enterprise, the Malta Tourism Authority and Finance Malta, in implementing their own strategies. My Ministry also chairs the Joint Stakeholders Working Council which was set up last year and which serves as a forum where the strategies to promote Malta abroad are discussed and coordinated with relevant stakeholders.
Moreover, our Embassy in Tripoli stands ready to assist all those interested in doing business in Libya. And I do wish to take this opportunity to thank the staff for the sterling work they are doing, sometimes in difficult circumstances.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Libya and Malta share a common history and identity as well as certain challenges. But the Maltese Government is determined to continue working to further strengthen our bilateral relations in all sectors, including the economic one. The ability and the willingness to implement the necessary policies to see that this happens is already present on both sides
In concluding I reiterate the assurance of the Maltese Government that it will continue to do it’s very utmost to assist the private sector in exploiting relevant economic opportunities for the benefit of both our countries.