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Mr. Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan,
Vice President of the European Commission Antonio Tajani,
Colleagues from the ASEAN Countries,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me first of all welcome you to the ASEAN Awareness Forum and thank you for your much appreciated participation.
The great interest shown by the Italian institutions and business community prove that South East Asia ranks high in our agenda.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As early as 1298 Marco Polo described Java in an astoundingly modern and vivid way. “The Island is of surpassing wealth, producing black pepper, nutmegs, spikenard, galingale, cubebs, cloves, and all other kinds of spices. This Island is also frequented by a vast amount of shipping, and by merchants who buy and sell costly goods from which they reap great profit. Indeed the treasure of this Island is so great as to be past telling”. Throughout the whole Middle Ages, Italian merchants provided European tables with the mystifying savours of Asian spices. Long before Marco Polo, the Indian Ocean used to be a prominent trade area for ancient Rome.
Centuries have gone by, but we still feel that close ties with Asia have marked the finest hours of our prosperity. / Italy recognizes that international trade and investment are more crucial today than ever before in order to ensure growth and prosperity. / While Italian companies will maintain a strong presence in closer markets, they also want to play a stronger role within emerging markets, where business opportunities are growing.
South East Asia is showing how to create a pro-business environment and we wish to build upon your experience. We are impressed by ASEAN's strong economic growth in recent years and we are fully engaged in fostering mutually beneficial relationships.
Italian export to ASEAN markets increased by a yearly average of 4.5% in the last decade, reaching now a total value of €5.6 billion. Italian import from the area increased in the same period by a yearly average of 9%, reaching a total amount of €6.9 billion in 2011.
We are fully aware that the existing economic relations between Italy and ASEAN countries can significantly expand. ASEAN countries attract a quota of less than 2% of total Italian exports and foreign investments. I am sure that much more can be done.
Our country has much to offer. According to a market study [KPMG Italia, 2010], “Made in Italy” is the third most known brand worldwide, after Coca-Cola and Visa. Online research with “Made in Italy” as keyword increased by 153% from 2006 to 2010.
The Italian production and trade model is traditionally based on a number of well-known sectors. / Not only does our country excel in the so called “three F’s” (Food, Fashion, Furniture), but also in high-tech products. / The International Trade Center publishes every year the Trade Performance Index, which calculates the level of competitiveness and diversification of a particular export sector using comparisons with other countries. According to the latest data, Italy ranks first in the world in Textiles, Leather Products and Clothing; second in Non Electronic Machinery, Basic Manufactures (which includes Metal Products, Cement and Glass) and Miscellaneous Manufactures (including Jewellery and Optical goods).
Italy is a “trade champion”, whose reputation is deservedly recognized worldwide. Moreover, our production organizational pattern, largely based on Small and Medium Enterprises clustered in industrial districts, has proved extremely flexible even in the most critical circumstances. Style and constant innovation are the tangible results our enterprises can offer to their trade and investment partners all around the world.
Business communities constantly look for opportunities, but they need a proper institutional framework. This is why Italy looks with keen interest at the significant developments taking place within ASEAN. We appreciate and encourage the significant community-building efforts that will lead to an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. South East Asia plays an increasing role worldwide. A new regional architecture will thus contribute to global security and prosperity.
The international system is rapidly changing. / The partnership between Europe and Asia is therefore even more significant. Recent developments of multilateral cooperation in Asia, such as the enlargement of the East Asia Summit to include Russia and the USA, demonstrate that we need to increase our engagement in East Asian regional fora. The next EU-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Brunei on 26-27 April 2012 will be a much welcome opportunity to cast a bright light on the active role Italy intends to play, and I will be glad to be there.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have here today prominent representatives of our business communities, active in many sectors, including those that have not yet explored the full set of opportunities for trade, and investment, together with Asean Government high officials and representatives of international financial institutions.
During the business sessions to be held later today and tomorrow, you will discuss business opportunities in fields such as infrastructure, industrial cooperation, mechanics, as well as high technology and consumer goods.
As a follow-up to this Conference, we are planning further initiatives. We have already taken concrete measures. Last year the Philippines organized an important Road Show. We are cooperating with Viet Nam for other Road Shows in four Italian cities. During my recent mission to Asia together with a delegation of CEOs of Italian major enterprises, we decided with Singaporean authorities to organize a Business Forum aimed at presenting Italian excellencies in the infrastructural sector.
These initiatives demonstrate to our business community the huge potential of ASEAN countries. We are committed to carry out similar initiatives with all your countries. We want to build a bridge between our economic systems.
I hope that we will continue working together.
Thank you all again.
Mr Secretary General of Asean, Your Excellency Surin Pitsuwan, you have the floor.