x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Being small a big advantage for Malta

Malta executives highlight the ease and efficiency that comes with doing business on a small island.

Malta and Singapore started from similar positions as they set out to build their economies in the mid-1960s. Both were small, open economies with a similar GDP per capita. Neither had natural resources and both were former British military bases.

Singapore's growth, however, has far outpaced that of Malta, and now the small Mediterranean island is striving to catch up by focusing on the services, tourism and industry sectors. It is increasingly trying to establish itself as a financial services hub.

Maltese executives involved in promoting the idea highlight the ease and efficiency that comes with doing business on a small island, which is emerging as a gateway between Europe and the Middle East and North Africa.

"We are nimble," says Kenneth Farrugia, the chairman of Finance Malta. "We can act very quickly. We don't have hierarchies on hierarchies. The fact that we're small means you can do a lot of things in a day. We get foreigners coming here and they can meet their lawyers, meet their auditors, meet their service providers, and possibly play a game of golf in the evening, because it's a small island and you get around relatively quite quickly.

"We do need to address the transport and infrastructure because peak times create a problem, but on balance I think you can conduct meetings in a quite efficient manner."

The turning point for Malta's business sector came when it joined the EU in 2004 and adopted the euro.

"We've been seeing a flurry of activity in these past four to five years," says Mr Farrugia. "The internationalisation of the industry took place post-EU membership."

In 1994, financial services contributed 3 per cent to the economy and now the sector makes up 12 per cent.

"The challenges are on the human resources side," said Mr Farrugia. "We have a workforce of around 170,000, so we have to work hard to ensure that the supply of human resources are adequate enough to cater for the growth of the industry."

To this end, the government is investing heavily in education. Not only are courses free, but students are paid stipends when they attend university in Malta. More direct flights into the country are also needed to improve accessibility, Mr Farrugia says.