9 OCTOBER 2002
By Matthew Vella
The Chamber of Commerce yesterday hosted Slovenian President Milan Kucan, as part of his visit to the Maltese islands to address local businessmen and unions.
Slovenia is one of the Central and Eastern European countries which, like Malta, is currently involved in EU negotiations and awaiting EU accession.
Both President Kucan and Malta Chamber of Commerce President Reginald Fava emphasised the need for stronger economic relations between the two countries, especially in terms of export-oriented operations.
Mr Fava said that as the national Chamber of Commerce, its main objective was to foster greater trade links between both countries.
"Regrettably, trade between our two countries cannot be described as bountiful. Maltese imports from Slovenia stood at under EUR1 million (Lm400,000) in 2001, down from EUR1.2 million (Lm480,000) in 2000. These imports included mainly construction products such as plaster, cement and glass.
"On the other hand Maltas exports to Slovenia stood at around EUR650,000 (Lm260,000) in 2001", Mr Fava said.
Slovenian President Milan Kucan said Maltese-Slovenian political relations have been excellent throughout the last years. However, more work had to be done on the economic side of matters. He said the economic relations between the two countries had to pushed up to a higher level.
"As future partners in the European Union, economic co-operation is all important. Our expectations of each other have to be complementary", he said.
The President said that Maltas geographical position was important to Slovenia since it constituted a bridge between the European mainland and North Africa. Slovenian enterprises were seeking to expand their markets onto new territories beyond the Balkans.
Whilst Malta had one of the best container ports in the Mediterranean, the Malta Freeport, Slovenia was seeking to provide a container port of similar standards to service Central and Eastern Europe.
"Our economic relations in terms of these opportunities can only depend on the quality of service that is being offered by each operation."
Referring to Slovenias current economic progress, President Kucan said Slovenias unemployment level was below the EU average. Its structural nature meant there was more need for new jobs to be created. Answering to a question from the floor, he said Slovenian workers were not motivated to go and work elsewhere in Europe. Free movement of EU workers seemed to attract younger people.
The President of the Maltese Chamber of Commerce, Mr Reginald Fava, welcomed the Slovenian President and addressed the congregation.
Mr Fava said that in its recent joint visit with the Federation of Industry to Brussels, a Key Commission official singled out Malta and Slovenia as two of the applicant countries that deserve special treatment from the EU.
Mr Fava said: "Per capita income and standard of living in Malta and Slovenia are at the higher end, when compared to the group of ten candidate countries. Such a statement certainly reflects the special circumstances unique to our two countries. It is heartening to note that the EU is prepared to make special considerations to overcome any physical, geographical, or any other disadvantage which may inhibit our country from sharing the same level playing field within the enlarged Single Market."
Speaking about the EU negotiations, President Kucan said Malta and Slovenia were facing problems at the final stages of EU negotiations in the consolidation of certain pre-accession conditions.
"These problems seem to be affecting those countries with better track records in the negotiations", he said, referring to Malta, Slovenia and Cyprus as those countries which had been the most successful in the negotiations so far.
"On the positive side, I can only say that our countries have been the victims of our own success. This shows there is reason for much self-confidence and that we shall survive as EU members. We face positive futures within the European Union", he said.
Speaking about the Slovene experience in gearing up for EU admission, President Kucan said that accommodating the EU logic of free market economics had involved demanding financial operations. It was now necessary for Slovenia to concentrate on helping its small and medium enterprises, which so far constitute 98 per cent of Slovenias 62,000 companies.
Apart from local businessmen, the event was also attended by representatives and heads of the Association of General Retailers and Traders, the Confederation of Maltese Trade Unions, the General Workers Union, the Malta Employers Associations, the Federation of Industry, the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, and the Union Haddiema Maghqudin.