In 1964, India was one of the first countries in the world to recognize Malta’s independence and, thereafter, established diplomatic relations with Malta on March 10th, 1965. Both countries share the historical ties and heritage of the Commonwealth. Both countries seek stronger bilateral ties, especially in international forums. The Republic of Malta opened its High Commission in the year 2007 in India, whereas India opened its High Commission in Malta in the year 2018.
The impetus of the diplomatic relations between the two countries is showcased by the fact that since 1965, both countries have been signatories to more than 13 institutional arrangements. To name a few, the agreements and MoUs include the Agreement on Cultural Cooperation, Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation; the Protocol for Foreign Office Consultations; the Agreement on Waiver of Visa Requirements for Holders of Diplomatic and Official Passports; the MoU on Maritime Cooperation between India and Malta; the MoU for Cooperation between the Foreign Service Institute (Ministry of External Affairs, India) and the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, Malta; and the MoU in the field of Tourism Cooperation between India and Malta.
India and Malta’s bilateral relations have always been cordial and friendly. Many high-level visits have been conducted since 1965, where discussions including areas of trade, investment, tourism, and cultural and global issues of mutual interest have taken centre stage. The high-level visits from Malta to India started in the eighties, when the former President of Malta, Agatha Barbara, visited India for Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi’s funeral. In 1989, the former prime minister of Malta, Eddie Fenech Adami, had a fruitful visit to India, followed by a presidential visit in the year 1992 by Censu Tabone. In 2005, the Foreign Minister of Malta, Dr. Michael Frendo, visited India. The Chairman of the Standing Committee on Foreign and European A five-member goodwill Parliamentary delegation to India was led by the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Foreign and European Affairs, Mr. Jason Azzopardi, in the year 2007. Similarly, in 1990, President Shri R. Venkataraman visited Malta for the first time. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) Summit 2015 was attended by External Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj in Malta. In 2019, Hon’ble Speaker of Lok Sabha Smt. Sumitra Mahajan visited Malta and participated in the Standing Committee Meeting of the Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth.
The Political Relations
Politically, India and Malta enjoyed cordial relations even before independence as both nations were under British rule. In 1878, approximately 7000 Indian troops were deployed in Malta for the first time by the British Government of India. During the Second World War, Malta became a hub for ferrying Indian troops from the Atlantic. In the year 2005, Minister Frendo and Minister Singh signed an MoU which stated that the two countries would meet annually for regular political consultations. In order to enhance political cooperation, both activated the Malta-India Mixed Commission on Economic, Industrial, and Scientific Cooperation. Before joining the EU, Malta was part of the India-led Non-Align Movement and G-77. Both India and Malta pursue non- interventionist foreign policies, allowing them to collaborate in the future at the United Nations and other multilateral platforms. Malta has been a supporter of India’s candidature for a seat as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. India’s support for Malta for a non-permanent seat at the UNSC for the next two years has been appreciated. Politically, both countries are proud democracies and follow the rule of law.
Economic and Trade Trajectories
Currently, India has invested in 112 private companies in Malta, which are mainly in the areas of ICT and pharmaceuticals. One of the largest analytical pharma testing facilities in Europe is owned by an Indian company, Aurobindo Pharma. The company was set up in the Republic of Malta in January 2009. The items which India exports to Malta include pharmaceutical products, ceramic items, petroleum goods, and organic chemicals. Whereas, Malta exports electrical machinery and equipment, boilers, mechanical parts, and paperboard recyclable products.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the government of India, trade jumped 29% in 2018-19. Bilateral trade between the two countries is valued at US$340 million for 2020-21. Malta also backed the India-EU discussion on the free trade agreement recently. The free trade agreement will be efficacious for small countries like Malta. Minister Ian Borg looks at the fields like information and technological communication, pharmaceuticals, and even the film industry, which have the potential for growth and investment through strong collaboration. Recently, in August 2022, the non-alcoholic version of the Maltese beer Cisk was launched in New Delhi and Jalandhar for the first time by Simonds, Farsons, Cisk plc-Malta, and A&Z Exports International-India.
The Energy Matrix
In terms of India-Malta relations in terms of sustainability and green energy, both countries are following the International Solar Alliance, which is spearheaded by India and France during COP21 in Paris. India-EU cooperation is necessary as Malta works within the European Union towards sustainable development. Not only would Malta back India-EU cooperation in the trade sector but also on global issues like changes in climate and ocean governance. High-level visits were also conducted when the Minister for Energy and Water Management of Malta, Mr. Joseph Mizzi, visited India in February 2018. India hosted the UNCCD COP14 meeting on September 9th, and the Minister for Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change of Malta, Dr. Jose Herrera, visited India.
The Cultural dimension
The Cultural Co-operation Agreement, signed between India and Malta in the year 1992, forms the basis on which sporadic cultural events like film festivals, food festivals, and performances by cultural troupes are organized by the High Commission. Mahatma Gandhi’s influence on Malta can be seen when the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) gifted the statue of Mahatma Gandhi to Malta. Malta has a street named after Mahatma Gandhi, which demonstrates the close cultural ties that India and Malta share. In the year 2019, on the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, MaltaPost issued Commemorative Postage Stamps. These commemorative stamps were issued on the 100th anniversary of his birth back in 1969. The Manifestation of Culture through International Yoga Day is organized by the High Commission and annually witnesses massive participation among Indian and Maltese citizens. The goodwill visits by Indian naval ships like INS Darshak in April 2002, INS Tarangini in February 2007, June 2015, October 2015, and May 2018 served as an important instrument of cultural diplomacy. The recent visit to Malta in August 2022 by Minister of State for Culture of India, Meenakshi Lekhi, was impressed with how the culture sector has picked up the pace expeditiously post- pandemic. Owen Bonnici, Minister for National Heritage, has expressed Malta’s willingness to further amplify cultural cooperation. Meenakshi Lekhi, on her recent visit, also participated in the annual cultural festival in Dingli. The High Commission of India in Malta organized the Constitution Day of India celebrations at Malta’s leading vocational and training institute, Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST). The High Commission of India organized the Constitution Day of India, which was attended by policymakers, academics, and scholars. Speakers at the event discussed the rich democratic traditions of India.
Science and Technology
Science and technology, and research and development are the domains where India is one of the leading examples in the world. Malta, being a small country, does not produce heavy automobiles. Rather, it is a leader in the production of digital microchips. India is tapping the opportunity for further investment in the digital field in Malta as well as providing a workforce in Malta. Since education and market needs go hand in hand, the fields of science and technology and research and development require more Indian investment. India is invited to cooperate with Malta in the fields of artificial intelligence, blockchain, and financial technologies. Formal legislation on Blockchain technology bought by Malta is an opportunity for Indian IT companies in the coming years.
Even before Malta achieved its independence from the British, a few Maltese resided in India. Currently, the Maltese missionaries reside in Dumka, Jharkhand, and Kolkata, West Bengal. The last two Maltese Jesuits in India were Fr. Paul Aquilina, who moved to Dumka in 1954, and Fr. Joseph Gauci Sacco. According to data by the Ministry of External Affairs, in January 2022, the Indian community in Malta is estimated to be around 10,000-12,000, including people of Indian origin. Malta has been issuing work permits to Indian citizens since 2006, which contributes to its political, economic, social, and cultural domains of bilateral ties. Apart from visas for workers, Malta is also issuing visas for Indian students. Malta launched its “Citizen by Investment”, which is Malta’s Individual Investor Programme as well as the Malta Residence and Visa Programme, which has attracted many Indians.
Malta, despite its small size, has one of the oldest universities of its own, dating back to the 18th century. The Malta College of Arts, Science, and Technology (MCAST) is another leading vocational education and training institution, which is government owned. Private schools and institutes are also flourishing in Malta, which has attracted many Indian students in various fields like nursing, digital, carpentry, and even e-gaming. Exchange programs between the University of Malta and Indian universities have further strengthened educational ties between India and the Republic of Malta. English is one of the main languages of both countries, and therefore, the opportunities to strengthen the education sector are numerous. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi aims for greater academic cooperation with Malta by offering training courses to professionals from Malta at the Forensics University in Gujarat. The visit in August 2022 by Minister of State for Culture of India, Meenakshi Lekhi, also discussed with the chairman of the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies (MEDAC) and appreciated the important role MEDAC plays in enhancing cooperation between diplomatic institutes of India and Malta. MEDAC has an MoU with the Sushma Swaraj Institute of Foreign Service.
It has been more than 57 years since India and Malta established bilateral ties. There is a lot of potential and scope, especially in the health, fintech, maritime, film production, and tourismsectors for future cooperation, which would further strengthen and augment the bilateral ties between these two democracies.