Last Updated on Thursday, 18 March, 2021 at 10:48 am by Andre Camilleri
Based at the Ministry for Finance and Employment, the Office of the Special Commissioner for Economic, Trade and Financial Relations with the United Kingdom started operations on 1 January 2021, immediately after the signing of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) on 30 December 2020 and the subsequent end of the transition period.
The text of the TCA, a whopping 1,246-page document, is intended to regulate the relationship between the EU and the UK after Brexit. It provides for preferential arrangements in several areas, including trade, aviation and road transport, intellectual property, public procurement, participation in EU programmes, energy, and social security coordination.
The Malta Business Weekly asked former Central Bank of Malta Governor Dr Mario Vella, the newly-appointed Special Commissioner, whether he agreed that the TCA was not a traditional free trade agreement. “It certainly is not. In fact, it goes well beyond the scope of run-of-the-mill free-trade agreements and it should constitute a firm foundation for the safeguarding and enhancement of friendship and cooperation between the EU and the UK. However, it cannot replicate the sort of economic integration which was possible when the UK was a member of the EU.”
What is the Office of the Special Commissioner concerned with? “To start with, we endeavour to monitor the impact of Brexit on the ground in Malta. We also try to ensure that, going forward, we always have sight of the whole as well as of the detailed consequences. Ultimately, we are driven by the determination to prevent any deterioration of our economic, financial and trade relations with the UK and we believe that there are opportunities to enhance these relations, albeit in these new circumstances.”
Meanwhile, Maltese importers such as those importing pre-owned cars from the UK are facing practical problems that may well lead to a reshaping of Malta’s economic landscape.
“The resilient structure of our economy will withstand these circumstances; there is life after Brexit. On the other hand, let’s face it: importing from the UK will never again be as seamless as it was when we were importing from another EU country.
“Particularly, importers and exporters will already know of the great deal of paperwork that is now required whenever one wishes to import from or export to the United Kingdom.” These changes were the necessary effect of the UK’s exit from the single market and customs union.
Does the TCA cover everything? The Special Commissioner emphasised that there is still much to be done on certain issues. A case in point is Financial Services, an important economic activity for Malta.
Is the Special Commissioner only interested in business issues, however? “There are many factors that affect business. Culture and language, for example. Malta’s economic development owes a lot to the fact that we communicate with the rest of the world and, to a very significant extent, with ourselves in English. That is a legacy that we absolutely need to safeguard and promote. Even language is ultimately a business issue.”