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Address by the Hon. Minister at the 8th Italy-Latin America and Caribbean Conference

Dear Colleagues, Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Undersecretaries,

Honourable Members of Parliament,    

Your Excellencies the Ambassadors and Representatives of International Organisations,

Dear Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to open the Eighth Italy-Latin America and Caribbean Conference. Allow me to extend to all of you a warm welcome to Rome and also to the Farnesina. 

There is one story, in particular, that binds us. It dates back to 15 August 1805 when, during a brief stay in Rome, Simón Bolívar was driving along Via Nomentana. At a certain point, he was taken by his friend and master Simón Rodríguez to Monte Sacro, a hill only a few kilometres North-East of Rome, where he was told that in Ancient Rome (in 494 B.C.) that hill was the backdrop to the revolt of the Roman plebs against the power of the patricians. That revolt led to the creation of the Tribune of the Plebs, the aediles plebis and a representative assembly: the concilium plebis.   

These historical facts impressed Simón Bolívar to such an extent that, that very evening from Monte Sacro, he made the famous oath that inspired his campaign for the independence of Latin America.  

Speaking at a more personal level, it is a pleasure for me to recall one of my very first engagements at the Farnesina exactly one year ago: the International Conference on Italian-Latin American Cooperation in the sectors of Justice and Security (16 December), as part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Italo-Latin American Institute (IILA).

I won’t hesitate in saying that the IILA is our ‘common house’ here in Rome, where we nurture the “Latin nature” that unites us all in a common vision of the world. In a global world in which the lingua franca has become English and the culture of consumerism has standardized so many societies, we Latin people have a multitude of specificities to protect and promote that are grounded on common roots, religion and culture. Our “Latin nature” is an “ID card”, a “passport” that we must always defend and proudly show to the world.  

And I can’t help welcoming the attention that the Parliament is focusing on the IILA in discussing the budget bill, to which the Senate has presented an amendment to allocate an extra financing of 500,000 euros, giving IILA a 30% increase over the original allocation of 1.7 million euros for 2018.  

Coming now to today’s meeting, allow me to express my deepest gratitude to all the persons who, in this hall, have contributed to organising this big event. Ever since the first organising meetings together with the IILA, we had hoped to give a concrete and operating spin to this meeting.   

The title chosen is indicative of our action plan: “Goals and Proposals to Grow Together”. And we gave top priority to two issues: 1) investing in energy networks; 2) fighting corruption as a factor of growth.  

The concrete objectives of this Conference go to make up the broader picture of relations between Italy, Latin America and the Caribbean. In particular, I would like to stress two courses of action:

1)  Strengthening our “special” friendship, by leveraging on the Italian community in Latin America and the Caribbean and on the Latin American and Caribbean communities in Italy. This is our “human capital”.

2)  Strengthening our economic and industrial cooperation thanks to the propulsive role of our small, medium-sized and large enterprises. This is our “productive capital”.

In relation to our “special” friendship, let me recall that the ties between Italy, Latin America and the Caribbean have consolidated through the succession of entire generations. Over the years, the Italian presence in Latin America and in the Caribbean – almost 50 million people of Italian descent, 2 million of whom have an Italian passport – and the presence of Latin America and the Caribbean in Italy have nurtured a valuable flow of ideas, contacts and culture of inestimable worth. In many cases it was not due to a choice of life but to a professional dynamism, ready to grasp the extraordinary opportunities offered by both “sides”.  

Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to assure Italy’s utmost attention and openness to any initiative aimed at improving the services offered by our diplomatic and consular network in the Latin American and Caribbean Countries. Such as, for example, the employment of 100 new contract staff members and 150 permanent staff members that I have strongly wanted to include in the Budget Bill before the Parliament; and that will mostly be assigned to our offices in Latin America and the Caribbean.  

At the same time, we will continue to keep our sensitivity high for those populations who live in disadvantaged situations. Right now, Venezuela, our “sister Country”, comes to my mind, where 140,000 Italians, together with other citizens, are facing a difficult period. Italy remains convinced that the solution to these ongoing difficulties can only be possible through a frank and constructive dialogue between Venezuelans, in the government and in the opposition. Therefore, we hope that a new round of talks, scheduled for 15 December in Santo Domingo, may make progress towards concrete and effective results. 

You also know that Italy and the European Union have adopted sanctions against Venezuela. These measures are deliberately reversible, flexible and modifiable, depending on how the events evolve. Our only aim is to encourage a substantial dialogue through gestures capable of creating a climate of confidence.

As for the second course of action – economic relations between Italy and Latin American and the Caribbean – let me recall that trade has exceeded 20 billion euros a year (20.9 billion in 2016). Almost 3,000 Italian companies operate in Latin America and the Caribbean, constituting a significant part of our economic and industrial fabric.  

The goal that we must pursue is to go beyond the purely commercial dimension and give impulse to industrial cooperation, investments in the infrastructure and energy sectors, and to technological innovation. I am optimistic because we have been witnessing an extraordinary economic recovery for some time now. 

A very large number of Latin American and Caribbean Countries – with courage and determination – have pursued reforms in order to meet the social challenges imposed by globalisation, obtaining considerable results in terms of growth.

We have carried out important reforms also in Italy in the past few years, with a view to defending ourselves from the biggest economic crisis in Europe after World War II. According to forecasts, Italy’s GDP will grow 1.5% in 2017 and the last quarter has recorded a rise of 1.8% (ISTAT data compared to the same quarter of 2016). Today, all the most important indicators are preceded by a “plus” sign: more jobs, more industrial production, more exports and more investments. Italy has also recorded a quantum leap in its attractiveness for foreign investments. In financial terms, we have gone from attracting 19 billion euros in 2015 to 29 billion in 2016.  

But the real big challenge is – together – aiming for a quality economic growth: this means a growth capable of taking into account the impact that the economy has on the lives of individuals, of families, of the middle classes, of young people and of women in conditions of equality and on the basis of inclusivity and sustainable development criteria.    

The teachings of Amintore Fanfani, one of the founding fathers of IILA, are still very topical today: resist the fashion of the times and pursue a happy medium between unrestrained capitalism and a stifling State monopoly over production means. A third way, as it was defined by some, strongly inspired by the social doctrine of the Church, according to which economic progress can never do without respect for ethical values, can therefore not be founded upon exploitation and the abuse of power. 

It is the same social capitalism that inspired the founding fathers of the European Union and that placed the individual back at the centre of the economic system. 

Starting from these premises, the aim is therefore to remove the many obstacles that hinder individuals from achieving their self-realisation. Inequalities, privileges of position, and barriers to social mobility, create the conditions for rigid and opposed social classes. We must be capable of bridging inequalities, and avoid that the present dichotomy between plebeians and patricians, like one that inspired the mission of Simón Bolívar, may persist in the Third Millennium.   

Instead, we believe that it is possible to strengthen the weak without weakening the strong, creating the conditions to spread wealth without impoverishing the wealthiest, evening out inequalities through good governance, respect for legality and merit, security and growth. 

I have always shared this vision. And I try to put it in practice every day in the action of the Foreign Ministry and of the Italian diplomacy. The key still lies in our capacity to combine an ideal thrust with a realistic approach; the tendency to tackle highly complex issues with enthusiastic pragmatism; a fundamental quality in proposing, also now, innovative – albeit realistic – solutions for our future. 

Let us take the example of free trade, which is increasingly under attack from the wind of protectionism. Because, for us all, defending an open market economy and free international trade means defending both growth and the ideal of liberty. We cannot uphold the restriction of free trade and, at the same time, support broader economic freedoms, including the freedom of thought, of ideas and of discussion. All liberties are interlinked.  

This is a common challenge of Italy, Latin America and the Caribbean in many contexts: from the G20 to the World Trade Organisation. Precisely today, the Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation is being held in Buenos Aires and I take this opportunity to wish the best success to the Argentinian Presidency.  

I am equally convinced that in order to defend these ideals with pragmatism, it is vital to continue to promote the integration of our economies: what Latin America and the Caribbean did to draw their economies closer through different initiatives over the years; what was done by Italy through the project of the European Union, which still now remains the most successful project of peace and prosperity in the world.  

We must continue to look at a future in which Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union are bound together in a large area of wellbeing and prosperity. It is with this objective in mind that Italy is putting all possible efforts into stimulating the prompt conclusion of the EU-Mercosur Agreement, trying to pool support in Latin American Countries to win over the protectionist drives also within the EU bloc. Because only in this way will we be able to create greater wellbeing and prosperity. 

As I have already said, I am optimistic. Because…

When at the roots, there is a common history and identity…

When there is harmony of views and of thought . . .

When there is a friendship as strong as ours…

. . . we can do great things together.

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