Parliamentary Secretary Tonio Fenech has expressed confidence that Malta can maintain its rate of economic growth.

He told Parliament on Wednesday that exports in January were up by Lm13 million, or 22 per cent, from January last year, confirming that the pick-up in economic activity witnessed in the second half of last year was continuing.

Mr Fenech was speaking during the debate on a Bill to amend the Employment and Training Services Act. His comments on the purpose of the Bill were reported yesterday.

The Parliamentary Secretary said the government wanted to be in a position where it could make the best use of its available public sector workers, while promoting public sector growth.

Incentives to industry and businesses had been improved, as had worker training schemes. As a result unemployment had dropped. Foreign investment last year grew by Lm200 million, placing Malta sixth in the EU table of per capita foreign investment

Last year, 44 factories expanded their operations and 18 new ones opened, including 12 backed by foreign investment.

The manufacturing sector did face a number of challenges, notably price pressures. Although production output grew last year, the value of exports was lower in the first six months and export figures therefore showed a decline. This was worrying, but a recovery started in the second half of the year. Although export performance did not reach the 2004 levels in value terms, the economy grew by one per cent, as projected by the government.

This was not contradictory, as the leader of the opposition had made it out to be. Exports were calculated on the basis of value, not profits whereas it was added value, profit, which went into the calculation of economic performance.

This applied to various sectors. For example, hotels last year achieved higher room rates.

Mr Fenech said the government was not under-estimating the importance of the SMEs sector, which was particularly important for job creation. The administration would continue to introduce schemes to make life easier for SMEs. That included the creation of the Better Regulation Unit, whose main purpose was to unravel red tape so that the sector could continue to grow.

Joe Mizzi (MLP) in a short speech said the worrying aspect of this Bill was that workers in parastatal companies who were transferred to other companies stood to lose their current working conditions and would be starting anew like they were taking up new employment. He did not think this was fair, especially on the older workers. He urged the government to reconsider.

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