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The French connection

Our aim is to facilitate good relationships between Malta and France, says Joseph Bugeja, president, Maltese-French Chamber of Commerce.

Joseph Bugeja. Photo: Chris Sant FournierJoseph Bugeja. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

For many, France is a series of stereotypical images: the Eiffel Tower blinking its lights at midnight, a stretch of vineyards in Burgundy, the Gallic rooster emblazoned on the shirt of the national football team, and sweet-toothed people outside Ladurée, queuing up for a taste of those wonderfully colourful creations: macarons.

And yet France is much more than that. France has Europe’s largest aerospace, nuclear and agrifood industries, the second largest chemicals industry, the fifth largest international oil and gas company in the world, and is the third largest automotive manufacturer in Europe and the fifth largest in the world. It also ranks high in ICT, engineering, services, construction and innovation.

“France is a global economic power and its list of industry leading sectors is exhaustive,” says Joseph Bugeja, Maltese-French Chamber of Commerce president. Bugeja has just been re-elected president after serving a three-year term in 2009. Bugeja, who is a member of the UK Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, comes from the maritime sector and has been directly involved in ship owning and operations for the past 43 years.

Last year, the chamber, which was set up in 1989, celebrated its 25th anniversary. Its principal aim is to promote and develop commercial, industrial and tourist exchanges between Malta and France.

“There is a very good relationship between the two countries,” says Bugeja. “With regards to the economic exchanges, the latest figures show that the value of exports to France stands at €240m annually, while the value of imports is at €290m. Various French firms are setting up business in Malta, while Maltese firms have expanded their operations to the French market. With regards to tourism, for the first time ever, we have hit the 125,000 mark in incoming figures, which represents a 7.7 per cent increase over 2013. Furthermore, Malta has received another 71,000 French tourists that visited Malta through the cruise liner business activity.

“Still, there is further potential for growth, especially considering France’s leadership in various industries and the large projects that Malta is embarking on.”

Bugeja believes that there is potential not only in specific industries but also in the way business is conducted. For instance, Bugeja is a firm believer in the concept of business and competitiveness clusters.

“France is again a leader in this sector and has, to date, 71 clusters. In principle, the main aim of such clusters is to bring together competitors to share a vision to the benefit of the industry and the country.”

Clusters boost competitiveness and help the development of growth and jobs in key market segments by accelerating innovation efforts and providing support for high-tech, creative and service activities. This helps give a country greater international visibility.

Bugeja believes that Malta should embrace the concept of clusters.

“An economy needs to organise itself in clusters in order to operate efficiently and effectively. For instance, we have taken this approach in the maritime sector. Competitors work together and act as a consultative body to government. The results are there for all to see: Malta has the sixth largest merchant ship register in the world and the largest in Europe, with a record performance in 2014.”

The chamber, which is an affiliated member of the Union of French Chambers of Commerce Abroad as well as a close collaborator of the French Agency for International Business Development, works very closely with the French Embassy in Malta, Malta Enterprise and Bank of Valletta to further facilitate good relationships between Malta and France. This is achieved through delegations, seminars, networking and fact-finding missions. Although the chamber operates on a voluntary basis, it manages to coordinate functions with the competent authorities, organisations and constituted bodies of the two countries.

Another successful initiative that the chamber has taken is student internships and exchanges. During these exchanges, university students from France spend time in Malta working with a local business.

“Until 10 years ago, we were barely managing to attract 20 students. Therefore, we decided to establish a new system and nowadays we assist up to 80 students in finding work experience in Malta. This is a long-term investment: these are all university students who will eventually embark on a successful career. When they return to France, they take with them knowledge of what Malta has to offer and therefore, they become ambassadors for our country.”

Malta can draw various advantages from having good relations with a bigger economy. But what does France stand to gain?

“France appreciates the way we do business in Malta: we are professional and efficient. Moreover, our geographic position makes us a gateway to other markets. Both France and Malta can be considered as holding similar positions as dynamic markets with access to further potential in the rest of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.”

What are Bugeja’s aims for his three-year term as chamber president?

“Currently, the chamber has 80 members – the objective is to increase membership. Together, chamber members will continue working hard to identify avenues to bring together potential business entrepreneurs from both countries to explore the potential that both countries have.”

The Maltese-French Chamber of Commerce’s successful record was achieved through the strong teamwork of its 10 council members who dedicate their business knowledge and personal time to the organisation. The council members are: Joseph Bugeja, president, Kevin Deguara, vice president, Ann Petroni, honorary secretary, Mario Genovese, public relations officer, John Rausi, treasurer, Bernadette Bonnici Kind, Mark Miggiani, Richard Cleland, Gilles Gutierrez and David Fleri Soler, council members, Odette Vella, chargee de mission. For more information visit www.mfccmalta.com.

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