Malta’s improved export figures have been boosted by the inclusion of large reserves of oil stocks bunkered offshore in oil tankers, leading one critic – Labour MEP and economist Edward Scicluna – to claim the statistics are “obfuscating” the real state of Malta’s balance of trade.
Data issued today by the National Statistics Office for February 2012 shows the export of mineral fuels went up from €21.6 million in February 2011, to €199.1 million in February this year. The surge led to Malta’s trade gap – the difference between export and import values – going down by €130 million.
But the data includes oil bunkering services that bring enormous volumes of oil to Malta which are then re-exported.
Labour MEP Edward Scicluna has questioned whether the NSO figures paint a clear picture of whether Malta’s exports have increased or not.
“The truth is that Malta has exported less, both in January and in February of this year. Oil bunkering is strictly a re-export. It is actually a service and the only export is the commission charged,” Scicluna said.
Scicluna said the NSO should be giving an idea of Malta’s export performance without the re-export figures.
“It is simply a case of obfuscation… Harmonised data across the EU-27 must avoid making exceptions. But statistics are meant to be evaluated. In the case of the US for example, economists are used to make reference to ‘non-farm incomes’ which are in a class of their own.”
“I would expect that the NSO in future would do us a service, by giving us an idea of Malta’s export performance without this charge in its summary release. The last thing we need is further obfuscation surrounding one of Malta’s main economic variables.”
The surge in exports could be the result of oil stocks built up over a long period of time and then publishing the accumulative figures in just one month, instead of publishing oil re-exportation figures month by month.
Scicluna said a narrowing trade gap was not always a good thing, “especially when imports are falling due to falling demand… a trade gap should be seen over an average period of at least 12 consecutive months.”
An investigation by the National Statistics Office in November 2011 had found that the main traders declaring fuel exports this year did not always report their exports electronically for previous years, which resulted in substantially higher oil exports than ever before.
The investigation shed light on an inexplicable statistic first revealed by the Economist Intelligence Unit, that questioned how Malta’s 54% increase in exports could have been bolstered by the extraordinary €458 million in oil exports in the first eight months of 2011.
The NSO explained that the figures are submitted administratively by the traders themselves, which means the provisional data was not necessarily the real figure. As a result, imports and exports of fuels were substantially higher than previously reported.
NSO head Michael Pace Ross had rejected claims that the surge in export figures was a result of the re-exportation of oil held in Malta.
In the first two months this year, the visible trade gap narrowed by €85.8 million, to stand at €178.6 million. The increase in imports of €113.8 million was mainly due to mineral fuels, lubricants and related materials, with other increases recorded in beverages and tobacco, and crude materials.
The rise in exports of €199.6 million was primarily due to mineral fuels, lubricants and related materials. Other increases were noted in machinery and transport equipment, miscellaneous manufactured articles, crude materials, and miscellaneous transactions and commodities.
– maltatoday : Monday, 9th April, 2012