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Address by the Hon. Minister at the Presentation of the investment opportunities in Russia

Farnesina, 3 July 2017


(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)


Allow me to address a very warm greeting to Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovic and his distinguished delegation, Undersecretary Ivan Scalfarotto and all the guests present here with us today.

Russia is a vital market for Italy. And it is with this awareness that I went on mission to Moscow at the beginning of my mandate as Foreign Minister, also with a view to intensifying our economic relations.

Italy, as everybody knows, has always kept an open and intense dialogue with our Russian friends.

Ambassador Costantino Nigra, the first Ambassador of the Kingdom of Italy in St. Petersburg (1876), used to say the Italy and Russia “could not do each other too much good, nor too much evil” due to their geographic distance and their different geopolitical interests.  

During the last few decades, Italy and Russia have grown intensely closer – to their mutual benefit – above all thanks to the commitment of our respective Governments but also by virtue of the sound economic and trade relations promoted by our companies.  

These relations are long-dated and are founded on a climate of deep reciprocal trust.

Italy, we should recall, invested in the Russian market already during the Cold War, when our NATO partners did all they could to dissuade us from making the first investments in the FIAT plant in Tolyatti and in the gas pipeline that still brings us the gas purchased by ENI. 

They were big investments not only in economic terms but also in terms of the friendship between our two peoples, thus contributing to bringing the two blocs of a divided world closer together. 

Italy’s energy investments in Russia were a forward-looking choice: they have made Italy and Russia interdependent. And let me recall that Russia in these past decades has always proved to be a reliable supplier, even in the most critical moments. 

For an economic system such as Italy’s, which greatly depends on imported energy, it is crucial to maintain stable and secure relations with our major suppliers. 

Much of the merit also goes to those businessmen who decided to put all their stakes on Russia during the difficult ‘80s and ‘90s, when the situation was deeply different from the current one: the transition from a planned economy to a market economy; and Italy experiencing a tormented period when many people feared shouldering excessive risks on the Russian market. 

In those years, we started drawing closer together thanks to the fall of the Berlin wall and certainly also thanks to the intensification of cultural relations and the constant rise in tourism, which established flourishing contacts between our citizens.

But it was nonetheless an extremely difficult moment for our businesses. The last time I visited Moscow I learnt the motto: “Moscow does not believe in tears”. Exactly, neither did our businessmen. Because they pursued a long-term strategic vision, investing precisely in times of crisis. And because they never lost confidence in the great potential of the Russian market.

The responsibility that we bear today is to follow up on this legacy and translate it into new opportunities.  

At political level, Italy will continue to intensify its dialogue with Russia and, realistically, we will do so by applying a “dual track” approach, combining firmness on values and principles with the need to work together on all the big challenges of our generation: from fighting terrorism to tackling the migration crisis; from the Middle East to the Mediterranean.

In respect to the sanctions, Italy supports the European line of action linking the duration of the sanctioning regime to the enforcement of the Minsk Agreements.

For us, sanctions are based on principles of gradualness, proportionality and reversibility.

We have never been in favour of automatisms because we do not want to be enslaved by sanctions. Sanctions are only a means and not an…infinite end.

Let me be even more specific: we must not ignore how Russia is behaving with Ukraine but we cannot allow our relations with Russia to be hostage to those facts.

The constancy that we put into keeping our political dialogue alive is self-evident. Suffice it to take a look at the first semester of this year: my visit to Moscow (in March) was followed by a visit by the Minister of the Interior Minniti (in April), the President of the Republic Mattarella (in April), the Prime Minister Gentiloni (in May), and the Minister of Economic Development Calenda (in June).

At economic level, I think the times are now ripe to begin – as of now – to work more intensely to organise the next plenary session of the Economic Cooperation Council in Moscow next autumn. This effort should be motivated by concreteness: because the Cooperation Council is above all else an instrument that benefits our companies.  

I am increasingly convinced that, also after my visit to Moscow, the objective must be: “differentiate in order to enrich”. It is in the interest of Russia to modernize its economy and make it less depended on hydrocarbons. Likewise, it is in our interest to offer a broader, more articulated range of products, always in line with high quality standards. 

I am very happy that trade is growing and that the negative trend that began in 2014 reversed in the first quarter of 2017: the overall volume of trade amounted to more than 17 billion euros (2016) while Italian exports recorded a 26.8% increase in the first quarter of this year.

But “to differentiate in order to enrich” also means recognising that the Russian market is not only promising for exports.

Indeed, there is still a very broad unexplored potential of investment opportunities.

For us it is fundamental to promote “Made in Italy” products, which are greatly appreciated by Russian consumers, but we also want to promote “Made with Italy” products by sharing know-how, technology and innovation through new common projects. 

Our ambition is to go beyond the merely commercial relationship and make a quantum leap in industrial cooperation, taking the lead in the modernisation and diversification processes of the Russian economy. There are huge diversification opportunities to be grasped together in the sector of machines, the agro-industry and in the energy sector. 

In the gas industry, there are new routes to be plotted. On its part, Italy is interested in joint investments in developing a southern corridor to Europe, with the aim of promoting a Southern European gas hub.

Then there is also growing interest in cooperating in the agricultural sector. We are talking of the type of production that Italy is spearheading: technology-intensive and targeted on refined end consumers. 

Of course, companies make investments on the basis of market principles. They cannot be externally directed or determined by the State.

However, we can and must jointly support – with our economic diplomacy – the companies that opt for this decision. On our part, they will receive utmost support from the Foreign Ministry and our Embassy.

As I have often repeated during and after my mission to Moscow, for investments to be made it is also important for banks and SACE to make an extra effort. The effort must be “systemic”, decisive, by the whole “economic system” of Italy and Russia, together. 

A recent success story that I would like to mention is the Roadshow that the Embassy organised in Catania, Naples and Brindisi at the end of May, in partnership with ICE-Agency and Confindustria.

Another truly significant commitment is represented by the almost 500,000 visas, prevalently for tourism and business reasons, that are released annually by our Consular offices in Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg). Russia is the first Country in the world in terms of the number of Italian visas released. 

Russian tourists visit Italy from North to South. A few weeks ago, I was in Puglia to attend an economic event where I described the validity of the Strategic Plan for Tourism. Puglia is very familiar with our Russian friends because a very large number of Russian tourists go to Bari to pay homage to the remains of St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas is known worldwide for his generosity, the true cement that holds friends together. Generosity is what has tightened the friendship between Italy and Russia, and continues to tighten it every day, at every level.