The Parliament Economic and Financial Affairs Committee discussed the situation in Libya.
Mario Debono, GRTU Council member with years of experience in doing business in Libya, explained GRTU’s position on Libya to the Committee.
GRTU had members who were and still are heavily dependent on Libya business. In fact, many small businesses, even single member businesses, are now finding it difficult to survive.
GRTU’s members that have been actively involved in Libya are in retail, wholesale, services, remanufacturing, re-exports and IT. They have been hit hard because most of them depend on Libya for a large amount of their income, but also because they do not have the diversification and resilience of bigger companies. Mr Debono stated that GRTU would like to further engage with Malta Enterprise formally to continue assisting its members in this regard.
Mr Debono stated that GRTU has very good contacts in Libya, both in the east and in the west. Although the situation is dire and fluid, yet recent political developments and dialogue between the warring parties give rise to some hope for a settlement in the medium term.
Mr Debono also highlighted problems that businesses are facing, because many businesses are still supplying their clients with goods and services, albeit at a reduced rate. There are issues of security.
Maltese businessmen are still going to Libya on the daily flight, however there is a risk of kidnap for ransom in Tripoli, much less so in more orderly Misurata. Tobruk and Benghazi are unreachable unless with great difficulty.
Despite difficulties like exorbitant flight prices, the difficulty in changing Libyan currency to Euros for payments and repatriation, amongst many others, the legendary resilience and entrepreneurship of the Maltese businessman is still evident in companies and entities dealing with Libya. GRTU feels the time has come for these people to be given attention and relief, especially on tax and other payments.
There is also an issue with visas. There is great difficulty where Maltese business people request visas for their Libyan partners. Visas are being issued for health reasons, but nothing else. This is in great contrast to other EU countries like Greece, Spain, Italy and France that routinely issue Schengen visas to Libyans applying in Tunisia. It is obviously safer for Maltese businessmen to meet their business partners in Malta, but for some reason the Maltese Government is being reticent in the issue of visas
GRTU feels that Libyan partners should be issued a normal Schengen visa, not a special visa only valid for Malta. Yet any effort in this regard is a step in the right direction and GRTU will engage with the Ministry of the Interior on this issue. We cannot give the message that Libyans are second class people when we give them a visa. Other countries will get the business simply because they are treating them better.
Whilst GRTU appreciates the need to help its members diversify into other markets and not rely solely on Libya, which is currently a main focus of Malta Enterprise, we feel that things will get better in Libya.
This is our closest neighbour with historical and family ties going back centuries. It’s also a vast country with just 6 million people and vast resources, and not just oil.
GRTU feels that once things settle, the opportunities will come back, because even in these troubled times, people are still doing business. A presentation delivered by Malta Enterprise outlined 36 million in exports in the first quarter of 2015.
GRTU will continue its work with small businesses to help them overcome these troubled times in Libya.