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Address by the Hon. Minister at the 11th MAECI-Bank of Italy Conference

The authentic text is only the one actually spoken

Palazzo Koch, 12 March 2018

Mister Governor,

Delegates of the Bank of Italy and Financial Attachés,

Italian representatives at International Financial Institutions and Multilateral Development Banks,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to open the 11th MAECI-Bank of Italy Conference, especially together with Governor Visco, for the second consecutive year after I was appointed foreign minister. 

This year’s edition is dedicated to one of the pillars of Italy’s foreign policy: multilateralism, that today’s conference will break down into challenges and opportunities. Multilateralism is the leitmotif of all the pillars of our diplomacy: our transatlantic relations, our pro-European vocation, our Mediterranean dimension, the protection of human rights and the promotion of international free trade. Each one of these elements has met – and continues to meet – our Country’s specific and tangible national interests of stability, security and economic and social growth.

The best wish that I can make for today’s debate is for it to examine multilateralism in concrete and realistic terms. In defending multilateralism, we must always avoid speaking about it in abstract terms. It is instead essential to be very clear and explicit on the tangible benefits that it can bring to our Country.  

Allow me to make a first example that concerns the epochal challenge of combating terrorism, which also involves our transatlantic relations with the United States: I am referring to our joint commitment in the Global Coalition against Daesh that has defeated the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”. Moreover, together with the United States and Saudi Arabia, we co-chair the multilateral Counter-ISIL Finance Group and also cooperate with the international Financial Action Task Force in order to “freeze” the illegal resources that are the “oxygen” of terrorist organizations. These are the excellent examples of the effective multilateralism in which we believe.

At the same time, we cannot hide behind our successes. We know only too well that we are faced with important challenges, for example, in the context of free trade: that multilateral system of rules that have enabled Italy’s economy to be competitive and grow. Export is now almost worth 30% of our GDP and is a source of vitality for our SMEs. It is obvious that an exporting Country like Italy must defend an open global economy and avoid any risk of a trade war.  

Personally, I remain confident that the different positions on international trade that have arisen between the European Union and the United States will find a solution. We should never lose sight of the profound meaning of transatlantic relations, which have their roots in a common history, traditions and values. After all, our friendship with the United States is essential in order to achieve our priority goals of security and growth.

With maximum consideration for the interests at stake, Italy has constructively contributed to the European Union’s strategic reflection on its commercial policies. The new strategy is based on the Free Trade Agreements that go beyond mere tariff reductions and offer a more structured platform on the issues of governance, labour protection rules, assuring a level playing field and combating unfair competition. The priorities currently include: finalizing negotiations with MERCOSUR, Japan, Mexico, and the ASEAN member Countries; and initiating negotiations with Australia and New Zealand.   

In addition to trade, we must recognize that we have made great progress in Europe. Today, in Brussels, the buzzword is “investments”. Only a short time ago, the watchword that had the greatest impact on our confidence in the future was “austerity”. The most devastating economic crisis that our generation has ever known had spread panic and fear, sweeping aside longer-term investment policies. Europe had folded in on itself. And I am proud to have been part of the Governments that produced the change of direction.  

Obviously, not all the problems have been solved, starting with Brexit. A few days ago, President Tusk disseminated his “Guidelines” for post-Brexit relations. It is too early to evaluate their effect. What is important in this phase is to make sure that London and Brussels continue negotiating constructively and responsibly. The goal is to define an all-around “special partnership” with the United Kingdom as a “strategic Third Country”. And we must avoid “turbulences” both in the functioning of the Internal Market and on the financial stability of the Union. These must be our priority interests.  

I am equally convinced that it is in the interest of Europe to continue focusing its attention on the Mediterranean. The principal challenge remains – and will long continue to be – the joint management of the migration crisis. And, in this case too, Italy has always proposed a recipe of pragmatic multilateralism:  

In terms of strategies, we launched an innovative format focused on the Countries of Transit that was subsequently endorsed by the EU-Africa Summit of Abidjan and that contributed to the UN’s return to Libya through the activities of the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

In terms of instruments, we contributed to creating the EU Trust Fund for Africa (now amounting to more than 3 billion euros) and the more recent European External Investment Plan in Africa (4.1 billion euros that will mobilize 44 billion euros worth of investments).  

This afternoon, at the Farnesina, together with European Commissioner Hahn, I will co-chair a conference on the financial instruments that support the EU’s neighbourhood and enlargement policies. Overall, the funds of the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) and of the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) total almost 30 billion euros. We must make the best possible use of these resources, both for North Africa and for the Balkans, investing in infrastructure, energy networks and SMEs, without forgetting that these investments also stimulate Italy’s production system to expand.

My message this afternoon will be simple: Italy is a natural hub between the European Union and the Balkans and between the European Union and the Countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean and has much to earn from the EU’s neighbourhood and enlargement policies. Our interests are not only economic but also, and above all, political. Because where goods pass, boots will not; and where economic integration is promoted and commerce grows there is no room for instability, insecurity and conflict.

Besides raising challenges, let us not forget that the Mediterranean is an expanding economic system crossed by 30% of the world’s oil commerce and concentrating 20% of maritime traffic. It is a 500 million consumer market that represents 10% of global GDP, which has been growing at an annual rate of 4.4% over the last 20 years.  

This is why Italian diplomacy is committed to promoting a positive agenda to relaunch the Mediterranean as a global economic hub connecting Africa and Asia to Europe. This is the reason underlying our effort to maintain the Mediterranean at the top of the Global Agendas of the UN, the OSCE, the G7 and the G20. 

Also our Chinese partners, for example, are greatly interested in relaunching the Mediterranean from an economic point of view. It is a theme that I have discussed in two important missions that I carried out in China last year: the first was during the State Visit by President Mattarella (February 2017); the second was to co-chair the joint meeting of the 8th Italy-China Governmental Committee (December 2017) together with my colleague Wang Yi.

Italy is a staunch supporter of the “New Silk Road”. On the one hand, with a view to continue expanding global free trade. On the other hand, in order to develop the road of culture, science and technology. Six hundred university and scientific agreements are in force between Italy and China. Therefore, we must capitalize on this treasure trove of knowledge. 

Through the EU-China 2030 Strategic Agenda, we want to put in place a pragmatic cooperation consistently anchored to European principles and standards. We expect this cooperation to lead China to assume responsibility in line with the benefits that it draws from the rule-based multilateral order. The ultimate goal is a balanced and mutually advantageous growth in trade and industrial relations. 

One of this Conference’s sessions intends to answer a very specific question: how should we respond to the current wave of mistrust in globalisation? 

By now we are all aware that the benefits of globalisation have not been equitably distributed. Indeed, there are deep inequalities not only between Countries but especially inside them; also in Italy. But we also know well that it is useless to complain or fuel outrage. We now need a much deeper-reaching action to remedy mistakes. We need to promote inclusive policies in order to set unbalances right, without however challenging the foundations of the system: multilateralism and free trade.  

In order to achieve a fairer globalisation, we also need a very strong commitment in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Because sustainable development is an all-around effort: both in terms of policies capable of fostering financial stability and a better distribution of resources; and of combating tax evasion and corruption, which divert resources from growth and development.

The lesson learnt from Amintore Fanfani is still very topical: resist the trend of the time and pursue a middle-of-the-road approach between unbridled capitalism and a stifling State monopoly over the means of production. A third way, as some define it, according to which economic progress cannot do without respecting ethical values, cannot therefore be based on exploitation and abuse of power. I am referring to that social capitalism that inspired the founding fathers of the European Union and that placed individuals at the centre of the economic system.

Lastly, an important part of our response to globalisation lies in our capacity for “teamwork” and to strengthen “Brand Italy”. What we did eleven years ago – thanks to the wisdom of our predecessors – by giving life to the MAECI-Bank of Italy partnership, gives dynamism and incisiveness to our foreign policy. 

We very much rely on our partnership with the Bank of Italy. I am thinking of their very concrete activities such as the economic and financial reports and surveys on the Countries of accreditation. These efforts feed into market intelligence activities and support the institutional assistance given to our companies, which are the cornerstone of an economic diplomacy that produces 1.4% of our GDP (Prometeia Report 2017).    

As the systemic promoters of “Brand Italy”, we must continue to put all our efforts and our creativity into converting challenges into opportunities. Thank you and have a successful day of work!