Tonio Fenech says Malta's credible financial regulation 'reaps dividends'

Finance Minister Tonio Fenech has welcomed the G20 agreement on financial regulation and tax havens saying that Malta's transparent and credible financial regulation is paying off.

"The agreement to extend surveillance and regulation to areas of the financial sector that have been, hitherto, lightly regulated, is welcome," Mr Fenech said. "We also welcome the agreed moves to tackle non-cooperative financial jurisdictions," he added.

Mr Fenech said that Malta's consistent efforts in establishing a transparent and credible financial regulation regime that is attuned to the latest international best practices "is reaping us good dividends".

He said that notwithstanding the various contributions in the international media that attempted to tarnish Malta's reputation the OECD classified Malta as being among the financial jurisdictions that have "....substantially implemented the internationally agreed tax standard."

"This extremely good certificate for Malta rewards our continuous efforts and commitment to have a sound and transparent regulatory framework in place," he said.

However, Mr Fenech did say that he would have expected the G20 meeting to be more forthcoming with a coordinated and agreed position on the treatment of impaired assets. The London G20 agreement adopted a common approach - but no joint plan - to cleaning up banks' toxic assets. "The fact that this issue was overlooked might not help in regenerating the required confidence and trust in the financial sector and thereby help restore credit flows to the real economy as early as possible," he said.

Mr Fenech said the current economic indicators are still worrisome and, at times, contradictory. While all the key indicators are still negative, he said, "we are receiving some glimmers of hope on a possible turnaround in the fortunes of the world economy in the coming months".

He added: "The economic forecasts released by the OECD on March 31 project an international economy that is expected to remain in dire straits for much of this year. However, the same forecasts also provide hope in that the contraction in economic activity this year, when compared to last year, is expected to become smaller in the coming months. According to these same forecasts, we might also start seeing some positive growth as from early next year even though the news on the jobs front, internationally, is expected to worsen.

"Nonetheless, if these forecasts are anything to go by and, here, I would like to highlight the uncertainty surrounding such forecasts during a time of crisis, I feel we might start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel later on this year. If this comes to pass, then I am positively sure that such developments would impact very positively on our own economy as well."

Mr Fenech said that in times like these the country needed to invest more heavily in those areas that would provide an improved competitive edge in international markets.

"We need to ensure that we harness all the opportunities that are coming our way as a result of various factors, not least the sound and credible financial regulation regime that we have put in place. We need to continuously prepare ourselves in order to be in a good position to take up the new opportunities that should come our way when the economic situation turns around," he said.

Mr Fenech said the increased funds made available to the IMF by the G20 is especially important because it allows it to support and assist those countries with balance of payments problems.

He also welcomed the G20's commitment of €250 billion to support trade finance.

"The WTO maintained that the reduction in funding for trade finance significantly contributed to the decline in trade flows. Therefore, within this context, the G20's decision to ease the current constraints in this area is more than welcome," he said.

Joe Banister, chairman of the MFSA, also welcomed the G20's agreement on financial regulation and tax havens.

He told The Times Business: "Recommendations based on creating an international level playing field on regulation and supervision based on propriety, integrity and transparency including protection of consumers are very welcome because it is on these principles that the MFSA has been operating since its foundation.

"Regulation is an ongoing process and must keep evolving to keep pace with financial innovation which was one the main causes of the present financial crisis. Financial innovation had unfortunately outstripped regulatory structures and developments in various countries. The MFSA is known internationally to be ahead of the game in continuously developing sound regulatory structures and transposing EU directives on financial services.

"European Internal Market and Services Commissioner Charlie McCreevy has recently congratulated Malta for topping the list of member states together with Denmark for the timely implementation of internal market rules," he said.

Prof. Bannister also said that the government has made great strides in introducing exchange of information provisions in the income tax legislation and in the double tax treaties.
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