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Malta is ready for business
ME PoV Spring 2016 issue
Located in the middle of the Mediterranean and on the southern tip of the European Union (EU), Malta is a hidden gem not just for visitors, but also for business operators seeking an entry into, or exit from the EU.
Malta is a small European country with a growing reputation for fast forward thinking. The island is quickly becoming known as a flexible and reliable location from which to do business. Enterprising policy makers, a mature and developed legal system, a competitive tax environment and an adaptable, highly skilled English-speaking workforce position Malta as a regional center of excellence.
Malta has a rich history that has been defined by its strategic location and its natural harbors. After the Knights of St. John, both the French and the British took turns governing the country. Today, Malta is an independent EU-member state, but never lost its strong British heritage and commercial links, being best described as a Southern European state with a Northern European work ethic.
A surprising variety of industries and economic sectors operate in Malta.
Currently, Malta is one of the world’s fastest growing financial services mini-hubs. Asset managers, hedge funds, venture capital, insurance business and banks all enjoy the benefits of a pragmatic and accessible regulator–the Malta Financial Services Authority. HSBC is the largest bank on the island.
Manufacturing in Malta occurs in high-end value added niches such as pharmaceuticals or microchips, with the largest foreign direct investor being Germany.
IT activities and e-commerce are thriving sectors strongly supported by government policy. Malta was the first EU-member state to set up a regulatory framework for digital gaming. Smart City Malta is a Dubai-owned initiative to build a state-of-the-art IT and media business park.
Malta is becoming a hub for aviation activities and hosts large aircraft maintenance service centers for global airline carriers, such as Lufthansa and Easyjet.
Being a strategically well-positioned island in the center of the Mediterranean, shipping activities are intrinsic to Malta. The island has the largest ship register in Europe and its Freeport is amongst the largest transshipment and logistics center in the Mediterranean.
Due to its beautiful scenery and great weather, several well-known Hollywood movies have been filmed in Malta. For example, in 2014 Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt spent the summer living on the Maltese island of Gozo, filming the recently released movie By the Sea.
Each year the population increases significantly due to tourism and English language schools. Malta welcomes 1.8 million visitors per year and is well connected to all main European hubs. Emirates operates a regular flight to Malta from Dubai.
Malta’s economic performance continues to be robust. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) continues to grow while the EU average has shown contraction. Its banks have always been conservative and Malta is deemed to have the 14th soundest banking system according to the World Economic Forum.
Malta’s GDP in the third quarter of 2015 grew by 5.4 percent in real terms. Standard and Poor’s, the international ratings agency, projected that the Maltese economy will continue to outpace the Eurozone generally and expand by 2.8 percent per annum in real terms over the period 2016 to 2018.
In addition to economic stability, the country is politically stable with well-established relations both with the West, like Europe and the United States, but also with countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Malta thus presents a reputable hub for multi-nationals operating in these regions with a competitive cost/benefit profile.
Competitive tax system
Malta’s corporate tax system is unique, offering low effective corporate tax costs. Various incentives are available for intellectual property and research and development activities. There are generous provisions for the deductibility of expenses and for amortization and depreciation. Relief for double taxation is granted by way of foreign tax credits and full imputation with refunds.
With proper planning and economic substance, foreign investors in Malta can achieve an effective tax rate of 5 percent or less. Malta offers an imputation system of taxation, whereby tax paid at a Malta company level is credited to its shareholders in receipt of a dividend declared in their favor. Shareholders are then eligible to claim refunds of Malta tax paid, reducing the overall effective tax rate.
The introduction of the participation exemption has enhanced Malta’s position as a premier EU holding company location. Any income (dividends) or capital gains derived from a “participating holding” being a Malta resident or non-resident company that does not own real estate in Malta, are wholly exempt from tax in Malta provided the applicable conditions are met.
Generally this requires that equity shares are held, with a minimum investment of 10 percent and no minimum holding period. There are then no withholding taxes on outbound dividends to shareholders.
From an international perspective, Malta provides access to EU Directives and has concluded an extensive network of double tax treaties. Currently there are 72 treaties in place, including treaties with a number of Middle East and North African countries including Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
A number of attractive tax regimes for individuals are also in place. In particular there is the Global Residence Program for non-EU nationals. There is also an opportunity for ultra high net worth individuals and their families to acquire Malta Citizenship under the Individual Investor Program. Malta’s tax laws reflect the original Income Tax Act introduced by the British in 1948. The scope of taxation in Malta largely depends on a person’s residence and domicile, and a person who is not domiciled in Malta should only be taxable in Malta on foreign-source income remitted to Malta.
Malta offers a wide range of legal forms catering for all forms of investment. Company law is based on UK law and incorporation is straightforward without the intervention of a notary. It is also possible for companies incorporated under the laws of a foreign jurisdiction to continue to Malta without triggering liquidation.
Strong and effective anti-money laundering rules in line with EU law are in place and these must be satisfied a priori to setting up a business relationship or structure in Malta. However most international businesses and family offices will already be familiar with these requirements and have the available documentation.
There are no exchange control regulations and business may be conducted freely in any main currency. Although Malta is part of the Eurozone, Maltese companies can be set up with share capital denominated in U.S. Dollars, Pounds Sterling or any other major international currency.
Founded in 1769, the University of Malta is the second oldest in the Commonwealth outside of the United Kingdom. It attracts 11,500 students, including over 750 students from 82 different countries. Recently a private Jordanian investor announced plans to develop an American University of Malta on a campus on the southern coastline of Malta.
In addition, the Queen Mary University of London has come to an agreement to offer medical degrees in Malta taught by St. Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, offering clinical experience in co-operation with hospitals in Malta and Gozo.
Living in Malta
The attractiveness of Malta’s investment environment is highlighted by the fact that international investors continue to expand activities in Malta once established. The quality of life and the unrivalled charm of the island are a successful combination. The island provides an expat-friendly environment with availability of international schools and excellent healthcare. In fact, as per International Living’s Quality Index Malta is one of the best places to live and the United Nations has classified Malta among the safest places in the world. In 2016 Malta is listed as the third “must visit” destination by the New York Times.