As this edition goes to press, six months will have passed since the reintroduction of direct flights from Gibraltar to Spain. In those first few days the unusual sight of seeing an Iberia flag on a plane’s tail at the airport in December has now become commonplace barely worthy of mention. Indeed this month our very own carrier in the form of GB Airways joined Iberia in starting a daily service between the Rock and Madrid.
And it is not just the commercial community that is enjoying the benefits. Leisure travellers too are becoming more frequent visitors to the Spanish capital. We do not yet know about traffic from the capital to Gibraltar but in time this will grow as a matter of course. It is expected that many well-heeled Madrileños who own properties in the resorts of Sotogrande and Alcaidesa will substantially increase load factors on flights to the Rock this summer as they commute on a weekly basis.
These flight connections have not only opened new doors for the Rock’s business community. They have given easier and faster access to the Spanish capital and beyond for all those people living and working in the Campo as well. This development is coming to represent the new normality. The pity, as highlighted by the Chairman of GB Airways, is that is has taken so long to get here.
Cordoba’s four-part checklist shows that the pensions issue has been settled for the Spanish, although some dissent remains over the unequal treatment of our own kith and kin. The other two issues agreed at Cordoba, namely a more freely flowing frontier and recognition of Gibraltar’s 350 international dialing code, have both had teething problems. These have given cause for frustration and the accusatory finger pointing in equal measure.
Some of these problems were anticipated but many others were avoided due to the hard work and commitment of those involved, not least in the complex area of international telecommunications. Not everything is ticking along smoothly yet but the main point is that things are moving in the right direction and there is generally a will to make things work. This will be for the benefit of all.
Plans for the new air terminal and link road have just been announced and the tenders for these works have been issued. These works will cause further upheaval, delays and frustration during the construction phase. On a related matter the Chamber acknowledges that congestion is becoming an issue of increasing importance to everyone in Gibraltar, not just its members. In the coming months we will be looking at ways how this can be addressed. We invite members and non-members alike to contribute to the debate. It is in all our interests to see it resolved.
Gibraltar’s telecommunications sector is undergoing a radical transformation that is already yielding significant benefits for business and home users alike.
The entrance of a new player into a market traditionally dominated by a single service provider has increased choice for the consumer and is helping to drive down prices.
Yet beyond a simple reduction in costs, the new market climate is expanding the Rock’s communications framework to meet the growing demands of vital sectors of the local economy, including international business sectors including gaming and finance.
For the average telecoms user, perhaps the most evident of the recent changes stems from the political accord reached in Cordoba last year between the governments of Gibraltar, Spain and the UK.
Spain’s recognition of Gibraltar’s 350 international dialling prefix has opened the way for mobile roaming across the border, a development whose impact cannot be understated.
Gone are the days when Gibraltar mobile phone users needed two numbers – one local, one Spanish – in order to keep in touch. For business users with interests in Spain, this has been a welcome step toward normality.
The recognition of the 350 code has not been without its problems, as we report elsewhere in this issue of B2B. Callers trying to phone Gibraltar say they frequently experience difficulties in getting through, an issue that has raised serious concerns in the business community. But officials are working to address these technical teething problems, and in general the shift to 350 has been broadly welcomed.
In Gibraltar meanwhile, there have been major changes in the telecoms landscape.
Local provider Sapphire Networks recently unveiled an agreement with leading Spanish company ONO that establishes an alternative fixed-line connection to Gibraltar. Prior to this, all fixed-line communications from the Rock were routed through the Telefonica network, leaving Gibraltar susceptible to outages.
Now, Sapphire’s own fibre optic infrastructure connects its base in Europort with a hub in La Linea, where it links up with the ONO network. Sapphire is maintaining its link through Telefonica but is bolstering that with the second link, resulting in two independent fibre network connections between Gibraltar and Madrid.
In practice it means Sapphire can offer its customers an extremely robust service, and an alternative to the services offered by Gibtelecom. In the terminology of the communications industry, the key word is resilience.
Sapphire director Tony Welsh, speaking at the company’s formal launch recently, said many business clients – notably those in the online gaming sector – simply could not afford to lose connectivity.
“For many businesses, loss of connectivity equals loss of revenue,” he told guests at the launch. “Our network resilience is the reason we are here today.”
Mr. Welsh said resilience was the way to minimise the risk of communications breakdowns.
Every piece of Sapphire’s technical equipment and network, he said, had built-in resilience giving the company and its customers a fall-back solution.
Sapphire has already put in place its own physical network of fire optic cables to many areas of Gibraltar, and has other types of connection available depending on customer requirements. It also uses Gibtelecom’s infrastructure where necessary.
Sapphire’s entry into the market has broken Gibtelecom’s monopoly on communications and opened the sector up to competition. Already, prices for services such as broadband internet connections are coming down.
“Gibraltar now has a choice,” Mr. Welsh said. “A choice of suppliers, service, cost and technical know-how.”
Chief Minister Peter Caruana, speaking at the Sapphire launch, welcomed the concept of competition in the communications sector.
“It is hugely important for Gibraltar that there should be more than one service provider,” he said.
But Mr. Caruana also struck a cautious note about increased competition and said Gibraltar must take into account society’s needs in this context.
“In Gibraltar’s socio-economic model, profitability cannot be the only factor,” he said. “Profitability cannot come at the expense of the destruction of local jobs.”
While consumers may sometimes have to pay a little extra for some services, the flip side was social stability and full employment, he suggested.
The prospect of increased competition was recognised by Gibtelecom’s new shareholder, the state-owned Telekom Slovenije, which recently announced the purchase of a 50% stake in the local company from US-based Verizon for £25m.
With the acquisition, the Slovenian company became an equal partner with the Gibraltar Government, which holds the balance of shares in Gibtelecom.
The Slovenian company will bring “leading-edge technological innovation, and experience of operating in a regulated and liberalised EU market,” said Telekom Slovenije chief executive Bojan Dremelj at a press conference to announce the deal.
He promised a market-focused approach to business development that would deliver a “better customer experience” to Gibtelecom users.
“This is a small but very prosperous and highly developed European market with strong growth potential,” he said, describing the local market. “Due to its tightly arranged operations Gibtelecom is a sound financial investment with a good rate of return on capital.”
The need for employment continuity was highlighted by Gibraltar’s telecommunications minister Fabian Vinet, who said this had been a key factor in the government’s deliberations before the sale.
“When Verizon announced their desire to exit from Gibraltar, Government and Gibtelecom highlighted the matters that had to be safeguarded by a new partner, including that a new partner would have to satisfy us of a commitment towards continuity of employment,” he said at the press conference.
The minister also flagged up the potential for new technologies and services following the Slovenian company’s acquisition of Gibtelecom shares.
“Also, we – the Government – were looking for a partner that would contribute technological expertise and therefore assist Gibtelecom in moving forward with 3G and other technologies,” Mr. Vinet said.
Telecom Slovenia, through its Mobitel subsidiary, have been among the pioneers of 3G in the whole of Europe and have demonstrated an ability for innovation which I think will be very welcome.”
“The Gibraltar Government welcomes Telecom Slovenia as its commercial partner in Gibtelecom and looks forward to the two companies working together in continuing to advance technologies and deliver world-class communications in Gibraltar.”
The lunchtime flight from Madrid to Gibraltar last April 20 carried a rather distinguished, if discrete, passenger.
She was a commuter from the Spanish capital with important business in Algeciras. She also happened to be a member of the Spanish Cabinet.
Magdalena Álvarez, Spain’s Public Works Minister, was on her way to make an announcement about a new heliport. She barely stepped foot in Gibraltar, staying just long enough to climb onto the bus that ferried her across the border.
But in doing so she highlighted an important fact: even senior Government ministers find the Gibraltar-Madrid air bridge useful.
Passenger numbers on the Madrid-Gibraltar route remain modest but are edging north slowly. Driving much of that volume are business travellers from either side of the border.
After making the announcement in Algeciras last month, Mrs. Álvarez began her journey back to Madrid by taking a train from the Spanish port city. Her schedule meant she and her delegation missed the return flight from Gibraltar.
Had her appointment been a month later, she may not have had that problem. With the May launch by GB Airways of a second daily service to Madrid, commuters are able to get to and from the Spanish capital in a day, with time in between for business.
The Cordoba Agreements are starting to bed down and the signs are evident, not least at the airport.
At the end of March, Jose Pons, Director General for Europe at the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, highlighted the airport’s key role during a speech to the annual dinner of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce.
The occasion was heavy with symbolism. Mr. Pons was speaking just hours after the first meeting in Gibraltar of the Trilateral Forum for Dialogue. He had become the most senior Spanish Government official to visit the Rock on official business.
Even before he began his speech to the high-powered audience of business leaders gathered at the Chamber dinner in the Casino, Mr. Pons underscored the significance of what was happening that day.
“My presence here is more important than my words,” he told the guests at the dinner.
In a wide-ranging speech, the Spanish diplomat spoke of the airport becoming a “platform for progress” that would benefit all the citizens of the region.
According to Mr. Pons, the number of visitors to the Campo de Gibraltar and overnight hotel stays rose by 20% in the three months since the first flight from Madrid.
“The airport is not only boosting tourism,” he said. “The business community now enjoys easy and rapid access to destinations all over the world that were previously only possible via London.”
Nicholas Russo, president of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, also made reference to the new business climate during a short speech as he introduced Mr. Pons that night. Mr. Russo revealed that blue chip Spanish companies “who were apparently waiting backstage for the Spanish Government to make the first move towards Gibraltar are now queuing up to commence business here.”
He told the dinner that “the tacit blessing of Gibraltar by the Spanish Government implied in the Cordoba Agreements means many Spanish companies now feel comfortable about doing business here.”
During his speech Mr. Pons focused heavily on the gains that had already been achieved as a result of the process of dialogue. He stressed that his Government was committed to fostering the new climate of normality in relations between Gibraltar and Spain.
He acknowledged that the sovereignty issue meant that there would always be areas where Gibraltar and Spain disagreed, but said the focus should now be on addressing the day-to-day matters that affect citizens in the region, and not on the issues that separate the two communities.
Mr. Pons spoke of working for “a common future, a future of progress, respect and mutual understanding.” And he urged a clean break from the past.
“We must avoid adopting positions that evoke ghosts from the past that have already disappeared,” he said. “No one in Spain is acting with the intention of damaging the Gibraltarians.”
Earlier that day, the Gibraltar meeting of the Trilateral Forum for Dialogue had established the main elements of the next round of agreements that Gibraltar, Spain and the UK are now working toward.
At the meeting, all three sides acknowledged the progress achieved so far in respect of the four elements of the initial agreement reached in Cordoba last year.
The settlement on Spanish pensions has been accepted by 99% of the affected pensioners. The agreement relating to telecommunications issues has been implemented. In terms of fluidity at the frontier, considerable improvement has occurred.
The three governments also identified the next set of issues for the future work of the Trilateral Forum.
“This work will include cooperation on environment issues, financial services and tax, judicial and law enforcement cooperation, education, maritime communications and Schengen Visa issues,” they said in a statement at the time.
“The Forum will also deal with specific issues as they arise in the hope of resolving them as expeditiously and amicably as possible.”
The inclusion of the financial issues on the agenda came about at the request of the Gibraltar Government, though there is little detail publicly available at this stage as to what is envisioned.
At the Chamber dinner, however, Mr. Pons provided a clear hint of what the Spanish Government would like to see in the future.
He said Gibraltar should reflect on whether it was worth maintaining its current economic and fiscal model, given the negative impact it has on the Rock’s image and its relations with Spain.
Mr. Pons told the Chamber event that, in his own view, Gibraltar’s position outside of the European Customs Union was one that belonged to a past era, a time when the border was closed and Spain was a nondemocratic country.
And he said the Rock’s special fiscal and financial status “damages Gibraltar’s good name, and I don’t think it favours residents on the Rock if we really consider the benefits that the collective gains from these activities.”
“I know that it may be hard for you to accept, but a large part of the image problems that Gibraltar has in Spain comes from this exceptional status,” he said.
Such a status, he added, was more conducive to the evasion of taxation than the creation of wealth, and could damage long term prospects for a sustainable economic system.
“These are issues that at some point we will have to jointly resolve if we are to create confidence to overcome the divisions of the past,” Mr. Pons said.
“The more exceptional the regime in Gibraltar, the more difficult it will be to establish solid cooperation at a regional level, or with the Spanish economic system as a whole.”
Until recently, insurance guru and adventurer John Harrison knew very little about motorbikes. His experience on two wheels, he admits, stretched no further than whizzing across the border to Gibraltar on a moped.
But for a man who has canoed down African rivers and walked to the North Pole, it made perfect sense to hatch a plan for an expedition involving large-cylinder BMW off road motorbikes.
And if you’re going to go for a ride, it may as well be a long one: all the way from Cape Town in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt, nearly 20,000 km in all.
Harrison enlisted a handful of business colleagues as companions for the trip, all of them with links to the Rock. They included Nick Keeling, Glenn Harris, Martin Edwards and Matthew Lawrence.
As they hatched the dream, the five pored over books and maps of Africa and spent hours doing research on the internet.
They knew, roughly, where they were planning to stop en route, but that was about as organised as their itinerary was. This was to be a step into the unknown. They prepared their bikes and roped in an old Africa hand to drive their support vehicle and guide them through the intricacies of local customs.
Before they knew it they found themselves in Cape Town, about to embark on this incredible expedition.
“By day three, I think it was, we were off plan,” Harrison says of their shaky start. “We had atrocious weather, we couldn’t go anywhere on the roads, the bikes were all over the place.”
“I was the first person to fall off my bike,” he adds, smiling.
It was a challenge to keep going at first and Harrison says that after just a few days, he was unsure that they would make it past South Africa, let alone all the way to Cairo.
But they persevered and got into the daily rhythm, riding through isolated parts of Africa that are rarely visited by outsiders.
“None of us are motorcyclists and this is quite an experience for all of us.”
“We’ve probably done more off road riding in six weeks than people do in a lifetime.”
To do the whole trip in one go would have taken about three months, time that none of them could take off work. To get around this hitch, they split the journey into two.
The first stage, which they recently completed, was a sixweek ride from Cape Town to Nairobi, in Kenya. On the way they passed through several countries including Namibia, Zambia and Tanzania.
They stopped to raft down the rapids of the Zambezi river and witness the migration of animals on the plains of the Serengeti. They got arrested at border posts and had their bikes impounded. They met friendly locals and spent days riding through wild, untouched African landscapes.
“Half the time was off road, and when I say off road, I really mean no road,” Harrison says. “You go wherever you can find a track.”
“And as for the roads themselves, they are absolutely diabolical.”
Being on bikes brought them into close proximity with their surroundings and with the local communities as they rode through stunning scenery.
In Namibia, Harrison recalled vast red sand dunes in the middle of nowhere that rose up hundreds of feet high and then eventually end up down on the Skeleton Coast.
Elsewhere he says he was surprised at how green and lush some of these countries are.
“Zambia and Tanzania are as lush as anywhere in the United Kingdom,” he says. “You could grow any number of crops probably two or three times a year.”
The five men and their support team travelled 8,500 km through very poor areas, through countries where Aids is rife and life is short.
It was sometimes tough to take this in. On leaving Zambia, for example, something dawned on them, a glaring and stark reality.
“There were no old people,” Harrison says. “The life expectancy there is 34. People die.”
Harrison says he was also struck by the absence of aid workers in the countries they travelled through.
“The only evidence of aid we saw was in Zambia, food aid being sold in the markets,” he explains.
“We only saw aid vehicles in the capitals, we never saw them out and about.”
“Give the amount of aid that we understand is going to Africa, I would’ve expected to see far more evidence of it than we did see.”
“It didn’t seem to be getting to where it was needed.”
As he recounts his tale, it quickly becomes apparent that border crossings figured prominently on this trip, and not always for good reasons.
Take the border between Zambia and Tanzania. It took the riders a full day to cross that one and they had to work through a small mountain of paperwork before they were allowed through.
“It was bureaucracy gone mad,” Harrison says.
Later, when they were crossing from Tanzania into Kenya, they were arrested at a place called Namanga and their bikes were impounded. Apparently they had the wrong paperwork. It was ten days before they could get the bikes back.
“We had quite a runaround on some of the borders,” Harrison says, in typically understated fashion. “Mind you, it was a nice break sometimes. It meant we didn’t have much riding to do.”
Although some of the countries are notoriously difficult for travellers, Harrison and the bikers encountered no trouble on – or off – the road.
The next stage of the trip is set for January next year and will take the riders through perhaps more challenging countries, including Sudan and Ethiopia.
There are trouble spots in some of these countries, but largely these are localised problem areas. With care and attention, it is possible to travel safely.
Harrison says that a key element of a safe trip is an awareness that you are travelling through someone else’s country.
“You have to adopt their way of doing things, their rules, their lifestyle,” he says. “That’s the way it is in order to get by.”
Read more about the trip on www.cape2gib.com
Jeremy Blatch asks how we value people and how this relates to Charity.
How do we really value people? Many of us make wrong choices, and right choices in our lives, in the constant learning process of the ‘university of life’ and we are effected by those choices. But what of the people living on the margins of society who may not ever have had the luxury to be able to make a choice? Being born into abject poverty or with HIV aids or into a culture of drug abuse and prostitution as a way of life. What about these people? How do we value these people? Do they not deserve some opportunity to make some choices? What value do we put on these lives?
In our materialistic developed world, finding time for the family, self reflection and genuine rest and refreshment seems to be difficult.
Maintaining the equilibrium, between work, business, family and self is the challenge for most of us. Perhaps, in the way that we value others, in some way will determine how we apportion and evaluate our time and priorities. Some may argue that the cheap labour of the developing world, which allows business to grow globally, is allowing many in the developing world to at least survive albeit on a subsistence level. However that 80% of the world’s natural resources is held by 20% of the world’s population cannot surely in the long term be sustainable!
“If you never do more than you are paid for you will never get paid for more than you do”
Many would say that Charity begins at home. An aging parent a needy child or a lonely neighbour? And if we can value those people around us that we rely on and look to for help and assistance, how much more can we value those who are seriously disadvantaged through no fault of their own.
The Investors Forum www.investors-forum.com an association of professional firms based in Gibraltar, giving advice to the wealthy whilst distributing part of their fees to charity, has invited a team of experienced professionals to design a concept of an Investment Fund the “Solidarity Investment Fund” – hopefully to be launched in Gibraltar, along the same principles.
“The Solidarity Investment Fund”, is designed to offer the investor the opportunity to place capital under expert investment management and administration, whilst effortlessly directly making a difference to the seriously disadvantaged. The Solidarity Fund will be an umbrella of three sub funds, giving the investor three very different investment profiles to choose from.
The Investment Managers have ‘broken the mold’ of most money managers and will give up 50% of their fees to assist this charitable concept, whilst ensuring that the same professional standards apply to management of the investors capital. The Board of Directors and the other professional members of the Fund have also contributed in line with the charitable ethos of
The Investment Managers are Credit Suisse Gibraltar and SG Hambros. Gibraltar, both leading investment specialists in their fields. The fund will offer investors a choice of three funds to invest in; a cash money fund; a fund where capital is guaranteed and a fund, which will invest to obtain optimum returns in the worlds financial markets.
The Money Fund and Open Fund will be actively managed by Credit Suisse who are leading investment specialists in this field and the guaranteed fund will be structured by SG Hambros Gibraltar who are market leaders in structured guaranteed investments.
The Directors of the fund, whose role is to represent the investors, are drawn from legal, fiscal, investment and banking professions and bring collectively over 100 years of professional experience together to direct the fund. Transparency and integrity have been a priority from the beginning and to this end Hassans International Law firm are advising the fund whilst the Fund Admistration is provided by The Quest Group based in Gibraltar. To complete the team of qualified experienced professionals running the fund a leading firm of accountants will be appointed to audit the funds accounts.
The overall objective of the fund is to deliver to the investor ‘what it says on the tin’ and from the growth of capital allow a distribution to be made to charity, thereby allowing the investor to effortlessly directly assist those in need as well as receiving a return on their investment.
A small part of the gain that an investor makes, 10 basis points for every percentage point of gain, will be distributed to International Charity.
This distribution is only made from the gain and not from the capital. Given that we need to place our capital somewhere to work for us, this concept allows the investor to do just that, with world recognised banks and investment professionals, whilst having the opportunity to at the same time make a direct difference to the seriously disadvantaged. Firms and entrepreneurs who need to ‘park’ their capital for short periods may find the money / cash fund of interest.
This Solidarity Investment Fund, when launched will allow an investor to grow his or her capital under expert management whilst going the extra mile and giving something back to those who desperately need it. Charity is about people, our most precious resource. It may begin at home but doesn’t end there.
Since the new 350 international dialing code came into effect in mid-February this year the Chamber has been contacted by a number of members who report that overseas companies have been having trouble phoning Gibraltar from abroad. We do not know the extent of the problem and the Chamber has been in contact with Gibtelecom to try and resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
Gibtelecom has conducted an extensive communications campaign informing all major service providers that the code has changed. A quick Google search using the criteria “international dialing codes” reveals that the top ten sites listed all have the new 350 code as the Gibraltar dialing code.
The problem seems to be among the smaller 2nd, 3rd and 4th tier service providers who are much harder to reach. These providers may be unaware of the changes to the dialing code and are still routing calls through Spain on the old + 34 9567 dialing code.
The advice we have received from Gibtelecom is as follows:
1. All members should remind their overseas contacts (if they have not done so already) that the code has changed and that any telephone equipment such as phones, faxes and mobile handsets which have the old numbers stored in their memory on a speed dial number need to be reset with the 350 number.
2. If overseas contacts are still having problems getting through to Gibraltar then they should contact the telephone service provider in their own country directly. It could well be that their local provider is unaware of the code change and is still trying to route calls via Spain on the old code.
The Chamber would ask any member whose overseas contacts have experienced difficulties getting through to Gibraltar to call or email the Chamber on email@example.com or 78376 and give details of the country and city from which the call originates and also the name of their local telecoms provider (i.e. the company that sends them their phone bill).
It will take some time for all overseas phone providers to use the new 350 code. If each member could help by reporting connection problems to the Chamber then hopefully we can get things fixed as soon as possible.
Contact the Chamber 78376 for more details.
Free accommodation for Chamber members on Malaysian trade mission
The Chamber has received details of a promotion being run by MATRADE, the London office of the Malaysian Government’s export promotion agency. It invites Chamber members to meet suppliers of Malaysian goods and services in Kuala Lumpur later this year.
An international trade exhibition is being held in the Malaysian capital from 11-15 November where MATRADE will facilitate one-to-one business meetings as part of the INTRADE MALAYSIA TRADE FAIR.
INTRADE MALAYSIA 2007 will be an effective venue for Gibraltar importers, distributors and retailers to source a wide range of high quality Malaysian products and services.
Gibraltar companies attending the business meetings in Kuala Lumpur will be entitled to free accommodation (up to a maximum of 5 days and 4 nights stay – from November 11 -15, 2007) and airport transfers. The costs of accommodation and transfers will be covered by MATRADE’s London office. Companies will need to arrive in Kuala Lumpur by November 11, 2007.
Members who are interested in attending this event should contact the Gibraltar Chamber for further details.
Contact the Chamber 78376 for more details.
The beginning of May saw the launch of the new Chamber of Commerce web site. With a more dynamic clean “look and feel” the site hosts a new on line poll, as well as extensive information about Gibraltar.
The new site, which was developed by The Chamber in conjunction with Copywrite E-Commerce has a fully search able database of members and a news section. The site will provide the local membership, as well as potential new arrivals, with an excellent information portal.
Since last summer a company called Costa Networking has been publishing an English language quarterly magazine in Spain called B2BEspana. A number of copies of the magazine are also circulated in Gibraltar.
The Chamber informed the publishers last year that B2B is the name of the quarterly magazine published by the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce and that the Chamber has been publishing the magazine for the last seven years. Costa Networking’s response was that the choice of title name was entirely coincidental.
The Chamber would like to ensure that members do not confuse the two publications. Please also note that Costa Networking is not a member of the Chamber, nor is it registered in Gibraltar and its publication has no connection with the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce.