Among the items on the government's foreign policy agenda is a strengthening of relations with North and South America, departing from Italy's already excellent relations with the countries of the region, the fundamental national political-economic interests and the precious resource represented by the Italian communities present in the above-mentioned countries and their communities present in Italy.
Italy's foreign policy on the continent varies according to the country and region. In the case of the United States and Canada, our policy is part of a transatlantic dialogue that is as essential for the European Union as it is for Italy's traditional and intense relations with Washington and Ottawa, co-allies of NATO and members of G7/G8. Consolidation of democratic systems in Latin America and the growing harmony between Italy and the countries in the area with regard to the main international issues have fostered a mature relationship that helps in dealing with other problems both bilaterally and in the context of the European Union such as the fight against poverty, support for development and regional integration with UNASUR, the Andean Community, the Central American Community, the Caribbean Community and Mercosur (South American Common Market).
From an economic point of view, the American continent is already the second largest destination of Italian exports, after the European Union. Of course, the approach used for economic-cultural penetration varies. In North America, Italy tends to concentrate its presence and collaboration in academic sectors and enterprises with a high scientific and technological content, thus ensuring our business sector comparative advantages in terms of competitiveness. In Latin America, on the other hand, our efforts at economic and trade penetration are influenced by cyclical factors. Accordingly, a bilateral approach is needed with strategies to intensify our presence in moments of economic growth, on one hand and, on the other, provide ways of maintaining the same levels during periods of recession. Recently Italy has simply been giving continuity to an overall policy that, until now, was dictated more by momentary interests than strategic vision. In that context, we are also working on the internationalisation of the Italy system of SMEs.
The image of Italy is a different problem. In North America, there is still a distortion of Italy's image, linked to outmoded stereotypes, while in South America, our country is still seen as the "homeland" of many of our countrymen. From a more general point of view, Italy is also a point of reference for the culture of the individual countries: our linguistic, juridical, architectural and musical traditions have become an integral part of the national identity of many Latin American countries. Italy is therefore working to reinforce its already substantial presence in the region, as a major industrialised country and driving force in Europe, present as a military contributor to numerous peacekeeping operations under the aegis of the United Nations. Along with traditional activities to promote Italian language, art and literature and other more specific initiatives for restoration of the Italian-American architectural heritage, there is an important project for university interconnections with Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, This project will lead to further exchange of information, transfer of technologies, creation of human resources and enhancement of citizens of Italian origin.
The work of Italy's consulates is naturally a priority in Latin America. On one hand, these efforts are targeted at the large number of Italian citizens and people of Italian origin living there, particularly in Argentina (approximately 600,000 members of AIRE and 6-10 million people of Italian descent, Brazil (300,000 members of AIRE and several million people of Italian descent, Venezuela (130,000 and one or two million respectively, and Uruguay (70,000 and 1,200,000). Several countries are destinations for Italians tourists (Brazil, the Caribbean and Mexico) where the consulate performs important work protecting the interests of our countrymen visiting there. Finally, there are appreciable migratory flows, particularly in the Andean countries (Ecuador and Peru) and the Caribbean.
The Directorate General for the Countries of the Americas (DGAM) supervises relations with the American continent, a total of 36 countries. Consequently, it oversees bilateral relations with the two, highly developed North American countries that are members of G7/G8 (the United States and Canada) and the countries of Latin American (the Caribbean, and Central and South America) where the main issues are those typical both of emerging countries and, in some areas, of developing countries and development cooperation. Mexico, is the pivotal point between these two sub-regions, belonging geographically to North America, cultural to Latin America and economically and socially distinguished by features common to both areas. The DGAM is also concerned with regional multilateral relations, particularly the OSA (Organisation of American States) and its efforts to promote democracy and development and fight against poverty in the continent, but also of numerous regional organisations (SICA, SEGIB, BID, BCE, CAF, etc). The Directorate is divided into four offices (North America, Central American and the Caribbean, South America and regional international organisations). It is also the point of reference for Italy's 21 diplomatic missions and 36 consular offices in the area as well as other offices of Italy's national, regional and local government, business organisations and the world of Italian culture.