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Terzi: «Latin America doing its best for Italian firms» (Italia Oggi)

€26 billion – the number represents Italian trade with the countries of Latin America, a market of growing importance for Italian firms at a stage in which exports are playing a key role in resolving the economic crisis engulfing the Old Continent. A conference entitled “The strategic European Union-Latin America crisis and the challenges of globalisation: SMEs as a driver of common growth” focused on the challenges and opportunities that the South American market offers Italian firms. Italia Oggi discussed the topic with Minister for Foreign Affairs Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata.

Mr. Minister, what does Latin America represent for Italian firms in difficult times such as these?

A market of growing importance for our firms: it’s enough to recall that in 2011 Italian firms exported 27% more to Latin America as compared with 2010, with an 11% increase in imports for the same period. Total trade of €26 billion, resulting in a €2 billion trade surplus for Italy. The great dynamism of Italian companies can be observed in our participation in some large-scale infrastructure projects in Latin America. Indeed, the number of orders for Italian construction firms has gone up, and 50% of overall increased global volume in construction has taken place in Latin America.

What are the trade targets to be reached?

The EU/Mercosur agreement, for example, is one of the elements that we intend to pursue because we believe that this form of economic integration is fundamental to our country. Growth is inherent to the concept of regional integration – especially when it comes to SMEs. Sustainable agriculture, renewable energy – all spheres in which Italy has extensive experience. We need to establish roots in Latin America, something that has already partly been accomplished with our strong presence in Mexico: 1,400 Italian firms, many of which are SMEs in the process of strengthening their market share. And then there are the countries along the Pacific, all undergoing robust growth: here too we have a well-developed presence that could nevertheless benefit from further intensification.

What are business persons saying about the crisis? Do the signs continue to be negative for Italian firms?

There is an Italy made up of firms that export, one that is experiencing the crisis in a much less negative way than firms that depend exclusively on domestic consumption. Our exports have continued to grow over these difficult years in the Mediterranean basin, the BRICs countries, where growth in Italian exports over the past 2 years has levelled off at +40%. Moreover, Italian firms are undergoing a new phase in the internationalisation process, i.e. production processes not wholly based on Italian soil but that are increasingly being brought to Italy for completion.

What is these firms’ greatest challenge?

Innovation: keeping new horizons in sight, seeking alliances and partnerships. I am talking about companies of any size and type, not only the majors. We cannot consider innovation as exclusive to large-scale enterprise; on the contrary, we must encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to use all the means at their disposal to invest in new technologies. The next government will necessarily have to aim toward “smart” support for businesses based on research and innovation, with a specific focus on SMEs.

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