Joseph Muscat is not keen on allowing the Freeport to expand further inland, instead proposing the creation of flexible free trade warehouses.

The Prime Minister said the government was looking at the creation of free trade areas to develop the island into a logistics and transshipment hub, but that this could not come at the expense of additional land.

He was addressing an EY conference this morning during which five areas of potential future growth were presented. Logistics and the use of Malta as an e-commerce gateway for Asian goods were two of the proposals put forward by EY that included the creation of free trade zones and warehousing facilities.

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Dr Muscat said Malta could follow the Singapore model that shunned the use of virgin land to create free trade zones. He said a balance had to be found that also took note of the industrial burden the communities in the south faced over the years.

"What we are looking into is very much based on what were known as the bonded stores, where existing warehouses could be identified as free zones. But to do this we have to change legislation and implement a security mechanism to ensure any goods in these warehouses do not end up on the black market," Dr Muscat said.

The Prime Minister said a logistics hub spread over 8,000 square metres and which would employ some 350 people would be unveiled at ?al Far shortly. The project is a public-private partnership and will have a carrying capacity of half-a-million cubic metres.

He also revealed the government was having exploratory talks with AliBaba, a Chinese e-commerce venture, to determine whether they would be interested in using the island as a gateway to the European and North African region.

However, the Prime Minister also adopted a feet-to-the-ground approach, at times urging restraint. "Looking towards the horizon carries the risk of not seeing immediate risks and opportunities," he said.

Dr Muscat then reiterated his frustration at the two major banks for the problems they were creating to enable business people have access to finance.

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil indicated his party's willingness to find consensus on five growth areas proposed by EY but also warned of immediate problems that could not be ignored.

One of the problems was the reputational risk caused by the Panama Papers scandal and which could not be swept under the carpet. Another issue of concern, he said, was Brexit.

Source: Times Of Malta