SPEECH BY THE HON. TONIO BORG, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, AT THE SEMINAR ENTITLED “PROMOTING BUSINESS WITH SWITZERLAND” ORGANISED BY THE SWISS-MALTESE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE - VALLETTA - FRIDAY, 22nd MAY 2009
It gives me great pleasure to be here today for this seminar which marks the 10th anniversary of the setting-up of the Swiss-Maltese Chamber of Commerce. I would like first of all to extend my congratulations to the founding fathers of the Chamber, Mr Kurt W. Kamber and Mr Heinz E. Lischer, our Honorary Consul in Zurich, as well as many other supporters for the excellent job they have been doing for the promotion of business relations between Malta and Switzerland, business being always an essential requisite for the strengthening of political bilateral relations between the two countries.
The Swiss-Maltese Chamber is probably unique in the sense that it has not been content with having just a headquarters in the country’s business capital but is spreading its wings to reach other important areas of Switzerland. In September of last year a Lugano Chapter of the Chamber was opened, under the guidance of our Honorary Vice-Consul in that city, Ms Simona Soldati, who is also here with us today. And a further Chapter of the Chamber is scheduled to open shortly in that other important city of Geneva. I know of no other Joint Chamber with three offices in the same country and I hope that this will set an example for other joint chambers to follow. Of course, I have to thank also the Malta Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise for its participation and support to the Joint Chamber. The vitality shown by this Joint Chamber is impressive and I encourage Maltese businesses which are not yet part of it to join without delay as they stand to gain considerably from membership.
I am also delighted to see amongst us today Mr Philippe Praz, Economic Affairs Officer of the Swiss Embassy in Rome. His presence on this occasion is an expression of confidence and support by the Swiss Government in the Joint Chamber and a clear indication of its intent to back efforts at increasing business relations between the two countries.
Ever since Malta gained Independence in 1964, Switzerland has assisted Malta in various undertakings. The Fellenberg Institute, which was set up with the help of the Swiss government in the seventies, represented a very important stage in the upgrading of the technical skills of our students in the electronics sector. Small wonder, therefore, that it was the first institution to be absorbed into the recently-established MCAST.
The Swiss government was instrumental also in the setting-up of MEDAC, The Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies and the Diplo Foundation, both of which provide training courses for diplomats. MEDAC focuses its programmes on students from the Mediterranean region and has acquired a reputation as a centre of excellence for Mediterranean studies. Over the years it has trained scores of diplomats from countries in the region who today occupy very senior roles in their respective foreign ministries. MEDAC’s Euro-Mediterranean training and information seminars are funded by the European Commission which also nominates some of its high-ranking officials to attend them. The Diplo Foundation specialises in online education and over the past 10 years has trained some 800 persons originating from 147 countries. The Foundation is currently organizing joint activities with various institutions such as the Commonwealth Secretariat, EFTA, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, as well as bilaterally with governments, which include Mexico, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and the Moscow International relations Institute.
Switzerland is not a member of the European Union but through a number of bilateral agreements it participates in selected European actions. Such participation is against payment of a contribution to the Union’s cohesion fund and is intended to assist the development of new member states. As a result Malta will be getting an important item of hospital equipment next year through the Swiss contribution, which will upgrade even further the facilities offered at Mater Dei.
In December of last year I had the pleasure of welcoming to our island the Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy Rey. This was the first ever visit to Malta by a Swiss Minister and the occasion was marked by the signing of a double taxation agreement, which would greatly assist in the cementing of closer business relations. Ratification by the Swiss parliament is now awaited for the agreement to enter into force and we hope that this will not be too long in coming, although we appreciate that Switzerland will be re-negotiating double tax agreements with a long list of countries as a result of recent decisions by the OECD and the G-20.
This seminar is about striving for new investment possibilities. Switzerland is one of the world’s leading economies and, in spite of the current worldwide dismal scenario, still offers many possibilities, not least in the financial services sector. I am pleased to note that, thanks to the efforts of Malta Enterprise MFSA, the Swiss-Maltese Chamber, and individual initiatives Malta has today some 460 active companies with Swiss shareholding registered in Malta and more than 35 collective investment schemes which have Swiss managers, coordinators and administrators.
Our results in the tourism sector have been less spectacular, with the number of Swiss tourists remaining practically unchanged, at 22,000, for the past few years. I note that this year Air Malta is laying more airline seats on the route which should generate an additional 12,000 tourists; this would represent a substantial increase over the previous year not taking in account of the recently signed code sharing agreement between Air Malta and Swiss International Airlines, but in my opinion, we still need to engage ourselves more fully in this market.
On the trade exchanges side, we imported some €75 m worth of Swiss products in 2008 but exported only €9.2m worth of Maltese products to the Swiss market. Clearly there is a huge trade imbalance which needs to be addressed by redoubling our efforts at breaking into the lucrative Swiss market and increase our marketing efforts. In this context I would welcome an exchange of business delegations between the two countries and my Ministry would be very happy, as usual, to assist in every possible way the organization of such delegations.
On the investment side Malta Enterprise has been successful in attracting interesting investments from Switzerland, particularly in our growing pharmaceutical sector and I would like to congratulate them on their results.
Mr Chairman, in closing this short tour d’horizon of our relations with Switzerland, I once again congratulate the Swiss-Maltese Chamber for their hard work and successes over the past ten years and wish them an even more prosperous future. They can rest assured that they will always find in my Ministry the support they need and deserve.