MEP Alex Agius Saliba’s assertion that Maltese food importers need to be investigated by the European Commission due to spiking prices lies on the assumed premise that our size and geographical limitations have led to the formation of de facto monopolies, when, distinctively, these same limitations are more de facto the cause of added logistical costs.

We are all living in challenging inflationary times and there is no denying that many food prices have increased, and it is up to the locally responsible authority, the MCCAA, to investigate should there be any substantiated indications of any abuse.

But we need to recognise that, just as much as prevailing circumstances have brought about cost-of-living pressures on consumers, they have also brought about cost and competitive pressures on business operators and, therefore, to insinuate that the increase in imported food prices is the result of antitrust violations is presumptuous and overly simplistic.

The idea that there is lack of competition within the food importation sector needs to be corrected, more so when you consider that Malta has one of the highest number of supermarkets and food retail outlets within such a limited geographical area. We are spoilt for choice, with yet even more supermarkets on the way.

Our MEPs would be more of service to all, importers and consumers alike, if they focus on the need to get the European Commission to give tangible recognition to issues of remoteness of island member states and not just regions or island regions forming part of the EU.

Indeed, due to the diversity of islands within the EU, there is no common European definition, let alone strategy, and all our MEPs should make every effort to persuade the European Commission to take particular account of islands when adopting EU policy.

Malta has one of the highest number of supermarkets and food retail outlets within such a limited geographical area- Norman Aquilina

Of relevance here are the EU’s regional aid guidelines, which set up a framework “under which member states can grant state aid to companies to support the economic development of disadvantaged areas in the EU while ensuring a level playing field between member states”. These guidelines make possible “increased aid intensities” for “outer most regions”, “border areas” and “disadvantaged areas”.

The situation continues to evolve and, admittedly, get more complex, with the changing balance of competitive conditions linked to sustainability, such as the adoption of needed environmental and climate warming rules, weighing down further on our competitiveness, transportation costs being a case in point.

These developments are still in the making and will bring into play the need for some reconsideration in the application of EU competition policy.

The demand for tangible recognition of our remoteness as an island member state is legitimate and only intended to safeguard our competitiveness by levelling out the playing field.

We need to convince the EU that this is not a matter of privilege but a matter of necessity with all our MEPs having an important role to play here.

Norman Aquilina is group chief executive of Simonds Farsons Cisk plc.

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