Malta country brief
The Republic of Malta is an archipelago comprising the islands of Malta, Gozo, Comino, Comminotto and Filfia, located in the central Mediterranean just south of Italy between Europe and North Africa. Malta’s population was estimated to be 493,550 in 2019. With a land area of 320 square kilometres, Malta is the smallest and most densely populated member of the European Union (EU) and has one of the highest population densities in the world.
Malta became independent in September 1964, having been under British rule since the early 1800s. It became a Republic in 1974, and remains a member of the Commonwealth.
The President, currently HE Dr George Vella, is the Head of State. The President is elected for a five-year term by the House of Representatives. Although the role is largely ceremonial, the President appoints the Prime Minister and, on the latter's recommendation, other ministers.
The Prime Minister, currently Robert Abela, is the Head of Government. Mr Abela is leader of the Labour Party. He was appointed Prime Minister in early 2020 following a leadership change.
Since accession to the EU in 2004 and the Eurozone in 2008, Malta has devoted considerable energy to developing its relations with EU institutions and with EU member states. Malta held the Presidency of the Council of the EU for the first time in 2017.
Malta has a long-standing, active commitment to multilateralism and supports international cooperation, notably through the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the EU and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Malta’s business landscape consists of a consumer market of some 500,000 people, including foreign workers and a vibrant services sector especially in tourism and IT. Favourable operating costs, and a highly-educated, English-speaking, low-cost workforce, offer incentives to foreign investors and make the services sector the prime driver of economic growth in Malta. Malta also regulated the use of blockchain and cryptocurrencies in 2018.
Financial and ICT services, especially on-line gaming, have increased in importance as Malta’s regulatory and taxation environment attracts offshore business. The air services industry is a growth area and an international free port operates successfully as a central Mediterranean trans-shipment hub, making Malta a leading centre for container and freight shipment. Commercial opportunities for Australian goods (for example wine) are subject to intense price competition due to the proximity of European suppliers.
Australia and Malta enjoy a strong bilateral relationship. Australia established an immigration presence in Malta in the 1950s and opened its High Commission in 1967. Malta has a High Commission in Canberra (established in 1964) and Consulates-General in Sydney and Melbourne. Honorary Consulates have also been established in Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia. At the international level, Australia and Malta have a number of common interests, particularly relating to their membership of the Commonwealth and the United Nations.
People-to-people links are at the heart of our relationship with Malta. The first Maltese-born people arrived in Australia as convicts in 1810, followed by the first free settlers in 1838. The peak period of migration to Australia occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. The 2016 Census recorded 175,559 people in Australia with Maltese ancestry and 37,609 people who were born in Malta.
Malta played a significant role in the First World War, with around 800 Maltese directly supporting the Gallipoli campaign. The thousands of sick and wounded allied servicemen who were evacuated to and treated in Malta led to the country becoming known as ‘The Nurse of the Mediterranean’. There are 229 members of the Australian Imperial Force and 72 members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force buried on the island. Australian servicemen were also involved in the defence of Malta during the Second World War.
Anzac Day has been commemorated in Malta since 1916. The annual ceremony is open to the public, and usually held at Pieta Military cemetery. Visitors to Malta can follow the ‘ANZAC experience in Malta’ trail.
Australia and Malta have bilateral agreements in place covering immigration (1970), double taxation (1985), health services (1988), social security (1991 and revised in 2004), working holidays (1996) and air services (1996).
Positions indicated were held at the time of the visit.
- 2015: Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull visited Malta for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
- 2012: Senator the Hon Bob Carr, Minister for Foreign Affairs
- 2009: The Hon Stephen Smith MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs
- 2008: Their Excellencies Ms Quentin Bryce AC and Mr Michael Bryce AM AE. This was the first ever State Visit to Malta by an Australian Governor-General.
- 2018: Prime Minister Muscat and Mr Carmelo Abela, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion visited Australia for bilateral meetings and to attend the opening of the Commonwealth Games
- 2016: HE Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, President of Malta
- 2011: HE George Abela, President of Malta
- 2010: Dr Joseph Muscat, Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party
- 2009: HE Edward Fenech Adami, President of Malta, visited Australia as a Guest of Government accompanied by Dr Tonio Borg, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Australia in Malta
Bilateral economic and trade relationship
Trade with Malta is modest, due to a combination of distance and the small size of the Maltese market. In 2018, two-way merchandise trade was $21.37 million. Australian exports to Malta totalled $3.9 million, comprising mainly of margarine, cheese and curd. Australian imports from Malta were valued at $17.5 million. Major Australian imports include medical instruments, including veterinary instruments, and medicaments, including veterinary medicaments.
In 2018, two-way trade in services between Australia and Malta was $122 million. Australia exported $22 million in services and imported $100 million. In 2018, our investment relationship was worth $122 million.
Opportunities may exist for Australian exporters and investors in areas such as EU-funded infrastructure projects and joint ventures with Maltese partners accessing third country markets in the resources and services sectors. Malta also offers opportunities for Australian expertise in environmental and water resource management and related equipment for water and energy supply.
The Sydney-based Australian-Maltese Chamber of Commerce and the Melbourne-based Maltese-Australian Business and Professional Association of Victoria, in collaboration with the Australian High Commission in Malta and the Maltese High Commission in Canberra, help to facilitate and promote greater trade and business partnerships between Australia and Malta.