Launched in 2011, the Maltese Chinese Chamber of Commerce was set up to help Malta capitalise on the myriad opportunities offered by China, as well as to highlight to the Chinese what Malta can offer as a partner. Maurice Mizzi, entrepreneur, chairman and founding member of the chamber, met with The Report Company to explain its scope.
The Report Company: What prompted the idea of creating the Maltese Chinese Chamber of Commerce?
Maurice Mizzi: I visited China several times, the first time in 1970 and realised that nobody knew about Malta in China. We didn’t have the connections in terms of business and trade. So gradually, along with other partners, we set about organising the chamber. We are being helped by coordination with HSBC, which is originally a Chinese bank, and they are very supportive of the chamber. We now have a website and anyone coming to Malta or wanting to trade with Malta can just get on our website and ask for our help or opinion or anything. We are there to help people.
TRC: Which have been the major milestones in the last three years since the chamber was established?
MM: We have had an increase in membership. We also assisted in the Canton fair, which is the largest fair in China, with over 20,000 exhibitors. We had a few hundred participants and a lot of them went to the Canton fair and started trading. Trade with China is increasing and we’re importing more. The recent agreement between Shanghai Electric Power and Enemalta is an important one and that will open doors and make our chamber more interesting.
TRC: In terms of the priorities of the chamber, what is the main focus at the moment?
MM: We are trying to we have a presence and attract entrepreneurs in China who wish to enter not just Malta but the greater region. Our idea when we started was not to have Chinese products coming into Malta, but for the Chinese companies to establish a base in Malta as a hub and enter Europe, North Africa and the Middle East from here. After all, Malta is the most strategically placed island in the Mediterranean. I don’t think there exists another island with this kind of position.
TRC: Does the chamber focus solely on the private sector, or is there scope for the public sector, too?
MM: We focus on any sector and any business. Whether it comes from the private sector or from the government or from parastatal bodies, we will treat them in the same fashion and we will give them all the help they need. If they come to us then naturally we will help to facilitate them.
“If you want to interact with Chinese companies you have to visit the country, have a face to face relationship and build up a friendship. They have to trust you and you have to show that you are a trustworthy person. The trade between Malta and China should be ten times greater than what it is, and it will be.”Tweet This
TRC: Where do you see the main sectors where Malta has something to offer to China?
MM: There are several schools in Malta for English and they aren’t being used. Two years ago we had a blockage with visas. The visas were difficult to obtain and we as a council went to see the minister and it was not cleared up. We had schools writing to us and telling us that out of 22 students who wanted to come to Malta only two were allowed. We didn’t get anywhere with the previous government but now with this government it has been solved and we envisage that quite a few students would come to Malta, spend a month here in one of the schools and learn English.
If we are to cooperate in business and in other spheres, then language is very important. I would like to see also more Maltese learn the Chinese language. It’s a challenging language. We’re trying to teach the Maltese about China. The chamber is trying to pass on information about China. It’s a different culture completely to the European. You have to build a friendship. We have insisted in our seminars that we have had that you have to build a friendship before you do business and that you have to have patience. You don’t just go there and sign a contract.
TRC: What are the key attractions to the Chinese in Malta and how are you publicising them?
MM: Every canton in China has a chamber of commerce, so we are trying to contact all of them.
Students for example who come to our university not only don’t pay but they are given a stipend. People who come to Malta to study or work enjoy themselves. At the weekends the families and the children can go out and have a good quality of life. Life is not just built on work alone. You have to have fun and the more you have time for leisure, the more you can work because you look forward to what you are doing.
“We are trying to we have a presence and attract entrepreneurs in China who wish to enter not just Malta but the greater region. Our idea when we started was not to have Chinese products coming into Malta, but for the Chinese companies to establish a base in Malta as a hub and enter Europe, North Africa and the Middle East from here.”Tweet This
TRC: Where do you see the opportunities for Maltese companies to invest in China?
MM: If you want to interact with Chinese companies you have to visit the country, have a face to face relationship and build up a friendship. They have to trust you and you have to show that you are a trustworthy person. The trade between Malta and China should be ten times greater than what it is, and it will be.
TRC: How would you like Malta to be seen by Chinese investors?
MM: Let’s face it: what Maltese importers can import for Malta only is not going to keep the factories going in China for more than a few hours. I like to look at the bigger, macro picture. Malta could very well be a base for everything. Malta could become an extension of the factory for export. If you want to export to Europe, if you come to Malta and add value to your product it then becomes Maltese and can enter Europe without any extra taxes. There will also be similar opportunities in North Africa, once they are ready to consume again. We are open to everybody.
TRC: What is your outlook for the future?
MM: I’d like to see something more serious than just people importing a few cars here and a few air conditioners there. I’d like to see a big Chinese firm coming here and establishing itself to produce things. This is what I envisage, something big. You can flitter around with something small but you won’t get anywhere. We need something significant and this is what the chamber is aiming to help and promote.
Malta has an advantage because of the friendship there is and the relationship that there has been in the past. This is where we have to leverage on and we have to insist on. Even when things were not so smooth for China, Malta was there as a friend. The ultimate goal of the government and the Chinese embassy and us is to get a big name to set up a base here in Malta to service Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. This is where we should go and this is the original plan we had when we set up the chamber of commerce.