IN THE PAST, replying to the question “Where did you spend your holiday?” with the phrase “Na malte” did not mean you had been enjoying the beaches of the Mediterranean, but had instead spent the break engaged in construction or repair works: “malta” in Slovak means “mortar”. This play on words has not been used so often lately, as Malta has become a popular travel destination, either for Slovaks interested in sightseeing or learning English. On the other hand, economic cooperation between Malta and Slovakia, while far from thriving, offers niches waiting to be filled.
“The current level of Slovak-Maltese trade relations is characterised by relatively low total bilateral trade, which corresponds with the possibilities of the two economies,” Jaroslav Bobrík, from the international trade department of the Slovak Ministry of Economy, told The Slovak Spectator.
During the first 11 months of 2012 the volume of Slovak-Maltese trade was €22.1 million, of which Slovak exports accounted for €19.1 million and imports for €3 million. Slovakia’s exports to Malta accounted for 0.03 percent of total Slovak exports, while Malta’s exports to Slovakia made up 0.01 percent of Slovakia’s total imports.
“In spite of the significant increase in Slovakia’s exports to Malta in 2012 it is possible to say that especially in the field of economic cooperation there exist extensive opportunities for a significant increase,” said Bobrík. “The common trade policy of the European Union is a significant stimulus. It significantly facilitates mutual communication to our countries as union members and simultaneously creates preconditions for a more effective and coordinated approach when establishing in markets of third states.”
The structure of Slovakia’s export to Malta, apart from some stable commodities like cars, machinery and industrial products, is quite unbalanced. Bobrík explained that since the Maltese market is very small it is impossible to count on exports of one commodity which will be repeated each year, or increase.
“Apart from passenger cars, oilseed, machinery and mineral raw materials dominate Slovakia’s exports to Malta,” said Bobrík, adding that chemicals, electrical appliances, spare parts, transportation systems and pharmaceutical products make up the decisive part of Malta’s exports to Slovakia. Imports from Malta have increased by four times over the last five years; this growth was helped by a near doubling in imports of pharmaceutical products.
Malta also reports a high level of tourism, in particular in the sector of language courses linked to holidays, which have been drawing an increasing number of Slovaks each year.
In Malta, support for foreign trade and investments is coordinated by the government agency Malta Enterprise.
The Slovak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SOPK) in September 2011 signed a cooperation agreement during a forum held in Valletta on the occasion of an official visit by Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič to Malta.
“The aim of the agreement is to support activities to increase bilateral trade and economic cooperation between companies,” said Bobrík.
Bobrík sees space for the development of mutual trade, especially via extension of the current range of commodities. He sees Slovak products with high added value, like electrical appliances, means of transport and spare parts as having potential for export to Malta. Among the traditional sectors he regards as interesting are exports of steel and steel products, decorative glass, ceramics and furniture. The financial and insurance services, tourism and pharmaceuticals sectors are also growing in Malta.
“Slovakia should intensify cooperation in tourism and show interest in a bigger inflow of investments,” said Bobrík, adding that Slovakia offers many business opportunities in reconstruction or building of new hotels, pensions, accommodation and holiday facilities.
Bobrík also believes that Slovakia is an interesting tourist destination for Maltese citizens, offering them spa treatments or stays in aquaparks and winter tourism. But currently only around 100-150 visitors come from Malta to Slovakia each year, representing just 0.01 percent of all foreign visitors to Slovakia.
There remains plenty of room for Maltese investment in Slovakia. According to Bobrík, Slovakia is particularly interested in Maltese investments in small and medium-sized businesses predominantly in central and eastern Slovakia, which would help address the high unemployment in these areas. But there are actually no significant investments registered on either side. As Bobrík specified, Malta does not even feature on the list of countries which have invested more than €50,000 in Slovakia.
While SARIO, Slovakia’s state investment agency, has witnessed a decrease in interest from Maltese investors in Slovakia, it believes that there are always opportunities for the development of economic cooperation, especially given that both countries share the same two leading industrial sectors: automotive and production of consumer and industrial electric appliances.
“When drawing investors from Malta to Slovakia SARIO cooperates in particular with the Slovak Embassy in Rome [which also serves Malta],” SARIO spokesperson Ľubomíra Mardiaková told The Slovak Spectator. For the time being, she said, SARIO is not planning any activity focusing on attracting businesses from Malta to Slovakia.