The Malta Independent 13 December 2018, Thursday

It is our business

Francis Zammit Dimech Thursday, 6 December 2018, 10:16 Last update: about 7 days ago

The world is witness to the manifestation of giant industries that seem to be taking over our lives. Incessant advertising is present everywhere you look to, flashing names of the same chain companies repeatedly, almost in a loop.  This is not to say that these big businesses are in and of themselves bad for society; however, they are not in need of our support as much as small businesses are. 

Small businesses represent prospects for entrepreneurs, jobs for the people who live close to their quarters, and gathering places for communities. They are rooted in the landscape where they grow, and they give back vitality and sustenance. Although running a small business involves taking greater risks than working for a large, multinational company, the rewards are both quantitative and qualitative, including broad-based prosperity and a web of synergetic relationships. Micro businesses have the potential to be part of a society’s cultural make-up, becoming an integral part of people’s lives. 

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One can evidently see this happening in our society, especially given the fact that our island is so small and we all know each other  The local ‘grocers’ in Malta are one particular example that comes to mind when reflecting on small businesses.  Grocery shops rely solely on their consumers’ loyalty.  Unfortunately, we are already experiencing a decrease in these kinds of stores in Malta, as bigger supermarket chains are always on the rise.  The same scenario is applicable to a myriad of other small businesses – family run restaurants now compete with imported food concepts and restaurant chains, while small printers and publishers face tough competition from globally marketed international printing giants.

The arrival of online trading platforms definitely brought with it new opportunities for small businesses which could now venture out of their traditional confined space and look for business opportunities away from their territories. There is, however, one major challenge in this new scenario. How do we guarantee online platforms that can provide a sustainable business environment from which both the businesses and the consumers will benefit? How can we provide an environment that does not discriminate against small businesses, while providing the consumers with the possibility to search and identify best value deals?

The EU, cognisant of this reality, is working on a new law that will promote fairness and transparency for business users of online services. I am very proud to be been tasked to lead negotiations on this regulation in the Committee on Legal Affairs at the European Parliament. I want to ensure further opportunities for Maltese businesses. The main objective of this draft law is to implement a set of measures that will ensure transparency and fairness with online retailers, hotels, restaurants and other businesses that opt to make use of online platforms to sell their products and to provide their services to customers in the EU. Platforms are crucial for SMEs to reach their customers and hence transparency and fairness in how SMEs are featured online is of paramount importance.

Through this regulation we have also ensured that data collected through platforms is also made available to SMEs. This is data that concerns them and which is vital for them to study in order to provide customers with a better service. Data is considered as the new oil and that is why I have supported SMEs in their argument asking for such data to be made available to them. Of course, measures have been taken to ensure that data protection of EU citizens is also respected.

In preparation for the drafting of this law I had the opportunity to meet numerous stakeholders in Brussels and in Malta, including both small and big businesses. I have also worked closely with the Malta Business Bureau to ensure that the voices of the businesses and those of the workers are reflected in the legislation. I learnt about the challenges faced by SMEs and want to thank each and every stakeholder for their input.

It is our duty as lawmakers to safeguard small business from big corporations, and there are a number of reasons why we need to do this. Small businesses are an essential part of our community. They create the right kind of competition without which some business sectors can grow stale. They are easily adaptable to changing marketplaces and to innovation, and most importantly they provide an opportunity for young people with ideas for a start-up, without having to get disheartened with the risk of failure since whenever that happens,  young people will have the tools to recover and rebuild.

The future of our small businesses depends on how much we safeguard them and on whether we manage to create the right environment that will allow them to be the main drivers of our economy and an important component of our community.

Francis Zammit Dimech is a Nationalist MEP
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