Malta’s COVID-19 response secures cannabis industry growth

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Malta Enterprise has played a pivotal role in ensuring support for research and industry in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic. It says Malta’s COVID-19 response is promising for the cannabis industry.

For most of 2020, coronavirus has shaped our lives and the world in which we live. The outbreak and official responses to it have affected all industries and businesses all over the world. The good news is that Malta has been very effective in mitigating and navigating this scenario – so much so that Hans Kluge, General Regional Director of the World Health Organization, singled the country out as the model that other countries should look up to and emulate. This is good news for the cannabis industry in Malta.

Malta cannabis industry: weathering the COVID-19 crisis

Even from an economic point of view, Malta has been praised for the way in which we have handled the situation and supported the local industry in this time of need. In its report titled ‘The great lockdown’, the International Monetary Fund predicts that, of the EU Member States, Malta will be the jurisdiction to suffer the least. The GDP contraction for Malta is expected to be the lowest amongst the EU28, standing at -2.8% in comparison to the average EU contraction of -7.5%. In the post-virus economic landscape, Malta is predicted to grow its GDP by 7% in 2021.

The local manufacturing industry has weathered the first part of this crisis very well. Our sturdy manufacturing ecosystem, which operates in different niches, exports to different markets and trades in different international currencies, has managed to overcome the initial impact of COVID-19. In no uncertain terms, this has been supported by the fact that the country never went into total lockdown, resulting in no days lost from production. In fact, some manufacturers effectively increased production and are now further expanding their operations.

This is very reassuring news to the booming and evolving medical cannabis sector, which is currently setting up its operations on this Mediterranean island. In fact, Malta’s cannabis sector has continued its activities as planned and predicted, with five projects having set up their facilities and applied for the requisite licence from the Malta Medicines Authority. Later on this year we should be seeing the first exports of medical cannabis originating in Malta.

Support for industry and workers

Malta Enterprise has played a pivotal role in this success story. In a recent interview, Malta Enterprise CEO Kurt Farrugia explained how the agency has been administering the bulk of the assistance being provided by the Maltese government. This package of assistance, amounting to almost €2bn, included wage supplements; social measures; quarantine support; schemes to support employees in the transition to working from home; deferral of tax payments; and other measures designed to shore up fiscal liquidity. This response package is one of the most generous in the world, amounting to over 20% of the local GDP.1

Under the prevailing circumstances, it has become the main objective of Malta Enterprise to ascertain that companies operating within Malta remain afloat. The key target was to limit redundancies to a minimum in order to ascertain that companies can retain their human capital, in order to be able to hit the ground as soon as the right conditions present themselves. Furthermore, companies were encouraged and offered support to retrain their employees and revisit their operations.

In spite of all this, the agency has remained very active in its efforts to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) and supporting the implementation of project in nascent industries, such as medical cannabis. Although travelling has been halted, we have still continued to meet virtually with a number of potential investors and organised virtual delegations to all those who have shown interest in investing in Malta. Due to the travelling ban, investors have not been able to visit in order to ensure the smooth running of their project’s implementation, but Malta Enterprise has remained in close contact with all of its approved FDIs in order to best understand the challenges facing them and ascertain that everyone is being supported in the best way possible.

Rewarding research and development

Together with other local stakeholders, Malta Enterprise has also launched new support schemes to attract very targeted foreign direct investment. One of these schemes, designed and launched jointly with the Malta Council for Science and Technology, is the COVID-19 Research and Development Fund. The fund, worth €5.3m, aims to target public, academic and private entities; as a funding mechanism, it will facilitate research and development on COVID-19 as a departure point, yet with potential outcomes addressing not only innovative and improved approaches related to the current pandemic, but also to potential future waves and other antiviral-related research.

Malta is currently in the process of lifting most of the measures implemented to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Slowly, the population is adapting to a new normal, with retail and catering establishments coming back to life after a period of downtime. People are wearing face masks and visors, and social distance remains a measure to be respected – nonetheless, the island’s warmth, enthusiasm and will to carry on with business, as usual are prevalent sentiments. The airport will be opening its doors to international travel from and to specific destinations on 1 July. Here at Malta Enterprise, we are looking forward to meet both new and old friends and continue forging the way ahead to create successful stories and ventures.

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