Malta cannot be gateway to EU if we don’t address this issue – Vince Farrugia
Matthew Vella High officials from the Smart City’s parent company Tecom told a Maltese business delegation last week of their frustrations at month-long waits to acquire a visa to travel to Malta.
A business delegation to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, led by President George Abela, heard how Tecom representatives had to wait for over three weeks to be given a visa to travel to Malta.
Tecom are seeking to invest millions in its internet village being developed at Ricasoli, despite speculation on its progress following the international recession and industrial slowdown.
The director of the Chamber of Malta SMEs, Vince Farrugia, who accompanied Abela on the tour of the Arabian peninsula, said making Malta a gateway to the EU for these countries would require addressing the visa ‘problem’.
“If we want to establish Malta as their ‘passport to the EU’, we have to address the matter. It was the crudest thing that emerged from these discussions. Dubai has visa problems when it comes to entering the EU. Top businessmen told us they waited for a month to get their visa. I was shocked to hear these people are investing millions in Malta and still have visa problems,” Farrugia said.
The highlight of the delegation’s visit was to Qatar, an Arab emirate bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south, but surrounded by the Persian Gulf. An oil-rich nation, Qatar has the second highest GDP per capita in the world and has been ruled by the absolute monarchy of the al-Thani family since the mid-1800s.
“It was very positive. George Abela proved himself to be very charismatic when it comes to investment and export promotion. He has the necessary charm when it comes to such visits,” Farrugia said.
The GRTU director added that the visit to Qatar helped place Malta firmly on the map, with extensive media coverage ensuring that the path to increased Malta-Qatari relations was now open.
“They were very welcoming and hosted us to the highest of levels. The Emir personally gave his time to us, and he appealed to Qataris to seek out business opportunities with the Maltese. But it’s an opportunity that we ourselves should not miss.”
Farrugia said the delegation had meetings with the highest business associations and families of Qatar, and the Qatari chamber of commerce.
“It’s an oil-rich country which has allowed it to live off its own resources and not depend on foreign credit. It has its strong financial resources and was left unaffected by the recession.
“But it is also still being built. It has flourishing business and needs financial institutions, jobs in commerce and also tourism. A complex being developed there is six times the size of Smart City. So people in construction here should seek to outsource their services in Qatar. We need to relocate industry there and transfer the profits back to Malta.”
Farrugia said that if the Maltese economy had to grow, it would have to supply its services elsewhere. “Today we must export our business. Our supply is far too large for the demand of this market. Our entrepreneurial capability can go beyond our borders.”
The GRTU director however warned that it would be a waste should this opportunity go by. “We need to put our money where the prospects are. We must open a trade office in Qatar to reap the benefits of this visit. If we have a foreign trade outpost, we need to invest in it. Malta Enterprise has a limited budget and we are not putting enough money in investment and export promotion. We cannot make just spot visits like this without following them up.”