SOURCE / ECONOMY
Malta seeks investment opportunities at China-CEEC expo
Published: Jun 10, 2021 07:58 PM
Ambassador of Malta to China John Aquilina takes an exclusive interview with the Global Times on the sideline of the second China-CEEC Expo & International Consumer Goods Fair in Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province. Photo: Chu Daye/GT

Ambassador of Malta to China John Aquilina takes an exclusive interview with the Global Times on the sideline of the second China-CEEC Expo & International Consumer Goods Fair in Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province. Photo: Chu Daye/GT



In a sign of the growing influence of the China-Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) cooperation mechanism, countries that are not part of the mechanism such as Malta are turning to the platform to promote investment opportunities.

After seeing a dramatic increase of Chinese investment in the real estate and hospitality sectors in the past 5 years, Malta, a country in the middle of the Mediterranean, is also trying to woo Chinese investors in the pharmaceutical and financial industries at an ongoing major China-CEEC expo in China.

"Now, we want to see a bit more," John Aquilina, Malta's ambassador to China, told the Global Times in an interview on the sideline of the second China-CEEC Expo & International Consumer Goods Fair in Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province.

"This is a great forum for me to deliver Malta's message," the ambassador said.

Aquilina said that he believes there is a big opportunity in testing, certifying, repackaging, and distribution of Chinese pharmaceutical products. Chinese drug makers could also use Malta as a gateway to Europe as well as the North African market.

The potential Chinese drug makers Malta is looking for are those producing ordinary drugs for chronical diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Those drugs were already on the whitelist of the EU drug authority but their manufacturers need to obtain certain certificates in order to merchandise their drugs in the EU market.

"We think this is a sector which has not yet been properly researched by Chinese companies and I am confident that when Chinese companies look into the possibilities that Malta can offer, they will find great cost advantages as well as organizational advantages," Aquilina said, noting some additional advantages including the country's geographical location and transportation network.

The China-CEEC Expo has become a major venue where investment deals are signed between Chinese and European companies. On Wednesday, 17 projects worth 7.83 billion yuan ($1.23 billion) were signed between Chinese and CEEC companies in Ningbo.

Chinese investment has been increasing in Malta in recent years, most notably, the investment on a natural gas-based power plant by the Shanghai Electric Power Co that has helped the country switch to cleaner, reliable and cheaper power supply. 

As of the end of 2019, China's accumulative direct investment to Malta stood at $229 million, data from China's Ministry of Commerce showed in December 2020.

Aquilina said that Chinese companies in the health sectors are spending big and he was staggered at a plant tour this week to find out that one Chinese company still does not have a base in the EU (it already has bases in the US and Latin America).   

"I rushed up to the guy [giving the introduction] and told him Malta could assist," the ambassador said, describing himself as being "nice bit of competitive camaraderie" when a representative from a UK company rushed up to do the same.

Since its launch in 2012, the China-CEEC cooperation mechanism has gained growing momentum in recent years, becoming an important supplement to China's ties with the EU. The platform gained further influence with the participation of Greece in 2019.

However, this is not without disruptions and noises, as the US seeks to pit European countries against China. Lithuania recently pulled out from the China-CEEC cooperation mechanism.

Also, more broadly, the EU halted the ratification of the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), a bilateral investment deal that took 7 years of negotiation. 

Commenting on the status of the CAI, the ambassador said that "we're sorry that happened. I don't think it should be confused. The CAI is about trade."


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