What is the current state of the economic relationship between Malta and the US?
Let’s face it: Malta is a small country and not a household name in the US. Nonetheless, Malta and the US have a very strong relationship. We have calculated that one in every 30 jobs in Malta is related to a US company. We would like to see that number go higher, and we would like to see more US investment here, as well as more US companies taking advantages of Malta’s location and business-friendly environment as a place to do business. We are already seeing US companies partnering with European companies to respond to different tenders and projects. For instance, this is happening in healthcare equipment and pharmaceuticals, as well as in the manufacturing of small car parts and switches. There has also been interest in the aviation industry and the maritime industry as well. Obviously you also see the American brands everywhere, but the majority of that business is brought to Malta through distributors and franchisees. The US accounts for 4% of Malta’s exports and about 5% of Malta’s imports, and a lot of exports are car parts, pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
"We have calculated that one in every 30 jobs in Malta is related to a US company."
Has the Double Tax Treaty signed between the two countries facilitated business between Malta and US over the years?
There are a number of Maltese companies that started to do business in the US, and they have benefitted from the double taxation treaty to help their businesses grow. We do certainly believe that anything that takes down trade barriers and business taxes will encourage business and in the long run will develop economies.
Are there any specific sectors in which you believe that investors from your country may be interested in?
Malta’s growing healthcare sector has certainly raised some interest in the US, with Maltese and their European partners reaching out to US companies. On the medical hub proposition, while we are not directly involved ourselves as an embassy, we are happy to see this collaboration with American entities, and we believe this is a good opportunity for them to grow as well. The financial services sector is another area that will continue attracting attention, while aviation support companies should also be looking at Malta to join the country’s growing aviation cluster.
From an economic development point of view, what are the main issues that your embassy is engaged with?
This year we are concentrating on TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. President Obama is adamant that he would like to see a draft of the agreement by December. There is a big push on trying to conclude the agreement, which touches upon many different issues. Among other things, the TTIP seeks to address challenges that SMEs face when trading internationally, such as bureaucratic trade barriers, dual paperwork and double registrations. This is an area of high importance to Malta.
The negotiations are made up of rounds of talks. We are now in round 14. It is a complicated process; you need to keep in mind that it is the US and the EU. If the TTIP will be concluded, it would also take into consideration mutual principles such as strong labour rights, environmental protection and consumer protection. All of these issues are important to both communities. So it is really a great opportunity.
"If the TTIP will be concluded, it would also take into consideration mutual principles such as strong labour rights, environmental protection and consumer protection."
You have started your posting in Malta only very recently however what observations can you pass on Malta’s current social and economic system?
You have a very active government and civil society on the social policy element. However, of course, the highlight in the past year was the gender identity bill legislation, which was ground-breaking for all of Europe. On the economic front, Malta benefits from a highly educated, English-speaking workforce and its EU membership, which makes doing business in Malta very attractive.
What positive developments do you foresee for Malta in 2017 and are there any challenges that need to be dealt with?
The EU presidency is certainly an opportunity for Malta to highlight issues that are important for the country including migration, regional security and human rights. It is also a moment for Malta to showcase its great business environment and its natural beauty and its vibrant Mediterranean community from a tourism perspective.
Do you believe that Malta’s aspirations to become a regional hub for the energy, maritime and the health tourism sector are realistic?
Malta’s greatest resource is its people. Malta is a small country and nothing is going to change that fact. So, really, it is the people, and the entrepreneurial spirit of its people, that are essential. And because its largest resource is its people, the only limitation to being a hub is Malta’s own will, strength and imagination.
How would you describe your personal experience of Malta so far?
It has been really nice. The Maltese people have been incredibly welcoming with a warm environment here, and I am not speaking about the weather. It was windy and rainy when I arrived in March, but joking aside, everyone has been very welcoming and I am enjoying it immensely.
G. Kathleen Hill is a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor. Prior to her appointment in Malta, she served as a Senior Advisor in the Office of the Executive Secretary, at the Department of State of the United States of America. Ms Hill is well known for her management skills and effective human resource management. Previously she has served her country in Vancouver, Milan, Uzbekistan, Sarajevo and Belgrade. Ms Hill earned a B.A. from the University of Denver in 1986 and a Masters of International Affairs at Columbia University in 1988. She speaks Italian, Russian and Serbian.