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Alfano: «Teamwork between enterprises and diplomacy» (Il Sole 24 Ore)

“In two years, Italian companies have won 756 contracts in ninety Countries. Prometeia estimates that we have produced value added for over 16.4 billion euros, accounting for 1.1% of our annual GDP, and tax revenues for 6.7 billion, thus generating a fallout on employment with 234,000 jobs,” said Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, while taking stock of the results of the diplomatic activities performed in support of Brand Italy.

“It is the first time that the Foreign Ministry, with the support of a research survey company, elaborates a targeted analysis of the value of the diplomatic network’s impact on the internationalisation of Italian companies,” said Mr Alfano before taking off from the United Arab Emirates, where he met with 150 Italian business people working in the area. It outlines a map for 2014-2015 which, according to Mr Alfano, highlights “the dynamic role performed by economic diplomacy, which is more important now than ever in response to protectionist drifts.”

The Minister, through the embassies, is ready to relaunch the promotion of culture: “In this area, we will have 150 million euros to invest between 2017 and 2020, which add on to the 300 million already provided by the Situation Room with the Ministry for Economic Development to the Brand Italy promotion plan.”

What will these additional resources be used for?

“They will be used to tell people that Italy is not only technology and high-end products but it is above all else beauty expressed in all its forms, through culture, creativity, and elegance. The Foreign Ministry has designed a new instrument: the Integrated Cultural Promotion Plan that we have called ‘Vivere all’italiana’ (‘The Italian Way of Life’). It will be instrumental to presenting a ‘Super Brand Italy’ abroad, representing value added in promoting any sector of activity. A brand that can be admired, for example, in developing Lima’s metro, in the speed of the Eurofighter in Kuwait, in the frigates in Qatar and in the magnificence of the Bridge over the Bosphorus. We will also see it in the big exhibitions of our masters: Leonardo, Raphael and Botticelli, and in Italian-style design, which will be proposed on Italian Design Day, on 2 March, with 100 events staged in 100 cities around the world.”   

One of Brand Italy’s weak points in the past was the lack of synergy between economic promotion and the embassies’ activities. Is something changing?

“In these past few years, the relationship between enterprises and diplomacy has changed, determining a turning point by networking several players in the world of business who previously worked unlinked and unconnected into a ‘Country System’. We have overcome the old approach and pushed our embassies – and their closely interlinked ICE-Agency foreign trade offices – to become a crucial reference point for all the drivers of growth: the network of enterprises, Regional administrations, the great metropolitan areas and banks; all united in the single goal of bringing Italy in the world.”

On what corporate activities in particular will the support of the embassies focus?

“The diplomatic network’s strategic contribution primarily translates into guiding enterprises through the different phases that precede the adjudication of contracts in all the corners of the world and in every sector of activity, from defence to energy, from the aerospace industry to infrastructure. The importance of our diplomacy’s work is reflected in terms of providing information on tenders, assistance in presenting bids and in the embassies’ work in facilitating an amicable dispute resolution with local authorities in case of litigation.”

Up to now the Brand Italy plan has mainly focused on North America. Don’t you think that emerging markets have been neglected, especially in Asia?

“It’s true: the first year we allocated more resources for the United States and Canada, in the light of the high demand for our exports there. Now we plan to add considerable resources also for China, and the Asian and Gulf Countries.”

In addition to promotion, are you also capable of supporting enterprises in terms of security, especially when they operate in high-risk areas? An example could be the Mosul dam.

“There is very tight interaction and a continuous exchange of information with our embassies, our Crisis Units and our security systems.”

Doesn’t all this diplomatic effort risk being curtailed by protectionist thrusts that will mainly trail Trump’s election? Won’t it be more difficult for our companies to work in this new world that is looming?

“With the Trump Administration and the weakening of international trade agreements there will be an even greater need to provide strong and systematic support to our enterprises, especially to those operating outside the European Union. It is precisely the risk of protectionist drifts that relaunches the importance of economic diplomacy, which is called on to defend our interests in an increasingly proactive way. The Foreign Ministry wants to relaunch its ‘internationalisation’ role and I will tour Italy’s industrial districts to tell companies to rely more on our network.”  

Right now, in addition to the need to promote Italy abroad, is there also the need to defend our strategic assets? Will the government move with new or reinforced instruments in this respect?

“The Government is conducting a monitoring activity to assure the protection of strategic assets in conformity with European rules. Having said this, we would like to be very clear: we welcome foreign investments that bring jobs, innovation and funds to our companies, not those that could turn out to be an attempted plunder. We are not up for grabs for anybody and, should this be the case, we will rely on every possible rule to protect the Italian ownership of our companies on conditions of reciprocity.”

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