Labour MEP gets Commission meeting over Malta food imports market probe

Alex Agius Saliba and PN candidate Peter Agius in heated debate over petition brought by Labour MEP for Brussels probe into Maltese food imports pricing

Peter Agius (left) and Alex Agius Saliba
Peter Agius (left) and Alex Agius Saliba

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba will meet European Commission officials in March in a bid to take forward his petition requesting an investigation into the Maltese food import market and its impact on consumer prices.

The MEP said on TVM’s Xtra that he would extend the invitation to Nationalist candidate Peter Agius, as the two engaged in a heated debate over whether the complaint should have been made to the national competition regulator.

“I am doing what I am doing because I want the Maltese to be given the same deal as citizens of other member states,” Agius Saliba said, having petitioned the European Parliament’s petitions committee to bring the matter to the European Commission's attention.

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Peter Agius instead criticised Agius Saliba for having “aired Malta’s issues unnecessarily” in the European Parliament. “All he had to do is go to Ħamrun, not Brussels,” Peter Agius said, adding it was the national authorities that had competence to investigate any allegations of market abuse.

READ ALSO: Agius Saliba on the warpath - ‘Importers coerce stores to refuse cheaper goods’

Agius Saliba denied going to Brussels so as not to embarrass the Maltese government, insisting the issues he wanted probed were the competence of the Brussels executive.

The Labour MEP explained the unique circumstances Malta faces, particularly in its import sector, distinguishing it from larger EU counterparts like Spain, Germany, and France. “Due to its small size, Malta has a distinct import and distribution system, rarely found in other EU member states.”

He said the European Commission had been unresponsive to three formal letters and an urgent parliamentary question which he filed on Malta’s major importers and their pricing models on food products.

He will now be meeting European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager’s team on 7 March to discuss the situation.

Nationalist candidate Peter Agius, acknowledging the problem of the cost of living in Malta, expressed appreciation for Agius Saliba’s efforts in the EP but raised concerns about delegating issues that should be tackled locally to European authorities. “A problem that should be tackled here in Malta is being thrown into Europe’s lap,” he argued. “Yes, it is important to utilise EU tools, but we need to utilise them accordingly.”

Speaking over Agius Saliba’s quips, Peter Agius criticised the MEP’s approach, stating, “he is going to the EU to blame the incompetence of his own people.”

As the debate became more heated, Agius Saliba extended an invitation to Agius to be present with him for his meeting with the Commission, with Agius saying he will be carrying out home visits on the day.

Agius Saliba added that following talks he had with one of the major food importers, the company had informed him it would be removing hologram stickers from all its products, which was one way of distinguishing them from those imported by parallel traders.

In a separate statement, Peter Agius accused Maltese prime minister Robert Abela of hypocrisy by endorsing the European Council decision to supply arms for Ukraine while spreading “misleading narratives” on the EU’s defence policies.

“In Brussels, Labour ‘welcomes every initiative’ but returns to Malta to lambast these same decisions, from defence to agriculture to transport.. No wonder so many Maltese feel alienated from politics,” Agius said.

The EU has moved €12 billion in military support to Ukraine. “Ironically, while Abela was pointing fingers at President Roberta Metsola in Malta, as recently as last week, his representatives were negotiating another top-up for arms for Ukraine,” Agius said.

“Labour voted for the Lisbon Treaty in 2008. Are we now saying we no longer want our citizens to have the security of a European defence policy?” Agius said, pointing out that the EU’s defence policy, which includes a solidarity clause whereby all member states assist one another in case of security threats and military aggression.