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Interview with Minister Alfano to PRACHACHART THURAKIT

1) Would you say that besides marking the 150th Anniversary of our bilateral diplomatic relations, your visit to Thailand is also meant to highlight the importance of promoting trade cooperation, showing that Italy believes Thailand to have potential /prospects in the economic and investment sector?

A) Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the relations between our Countries is of great importance for both of us. Italy has developed a very rich programme featuring 69 events spread out across 299 days of the year, with a view to sharing the  celebrations with the people of Thailand. First of all, my visit is meant to mark the anniversary, which we expect to coincide with an important moment in the life of the Country, which is a return to the polls and to a system of representative democracy. However, economic cooperation plays a special role in the relations between Italy and Thailand. It is no coincidence that the anniversary dates back to the Treaty of Friendship and Trade signed by our two countries on 3 October, 1868. Commercial relations are intense and trade is well balanced with a value of nearly three billion dollars and a large potential for growth. In 2017 Thai exports to Italy rose by 8%, while Italy recorded a 7% growth in its exports to Thailand.

2) Would you say that your visit also has the goal to propose or promote activities/commercial cooperation projects, as well as  possible co-investments in specific sectors? And how would that come about ?

A)  I would say that the establishment of the Italy-Thailand Business Forum, and my meeting with the major Thai groups that are part of it, do point in this direction. We have already made large mutual investments, but there is still room to grow. Among some of the most important achievements I would like to mention are the Danieli steel factory and the Ducati factory, the only one built outside Italy. Both of them are headquartered in Rayong. As to Thailand, mention must be made of the Thai Central Group, which has acquired the historical retail chain ‘La Rinascente”, which is now relaunching with the opening of new stores in Milan and Rome. The inauguration of the new flagship store in the Italian capital turned out to be a major hit thanks to the successful restoration of a historical palace, which brought to light ancient Roman underground ruins.

3) Does your agenda also include the current “Brexit” crisis, which might impact the Italian economy somehow?

A) I understand that this question is looked upon with some interest in Thailand, as well for the impact it might have on the European and global economies.

In the past several months, Italy has been working along with other European partners to minimize the potential effects of the Brexit on its citizens and enterprises. At the same time, it has been transforming it into an opportunity to relaunch the EU 27 project, as shown by the Rome Declaration of 25 March 2017.

From a bilateral point of view, I see no direct effects of Brexit on the relations between Thailand and Italy. Italy is the third largest economy in the eurozone, the second manufacturing power, and a Country open to trade and investment. The same applies to the European Union, which will still be the largest trade block at the international level, championing a multilateral commercial system based on clear and shared rules, with a population exceeding 440 million inhabitants. In this sense, we hope that the progress made in the process of a democratic transition may allow for the resumption as soon as possible of the negotiations for a Free Trade Treaty between the EU and Thailand, which is ambitious and mutually beneficial.

4) The Thai government is currently promoting a project known as the “Eastern Economic Corridor- EEC”. Is Italy interested in it? If so, could you kindly tell us what sectors should be promoted, in order to develop cooperation between our two countries?

A) Italy is certainly interested in the Eastern Economic Corridor, which was presented in detail by the co-chair of the latest Business Forum meeting that was held in Milan last May. The industries that Italy finds most interesting, besides the building of infrastructure and transports that the development plan envisages, are renewable energies (including the production of electric cars and solar panels) agri-food clusters, textile, fashion, and footwear industries, as well as machinery in general (with a focus on packaging and refrigeration). They are sectors where Italy stands out in the world for its excellent quality. We are ready to receive Thai business delegations and we are considering the opportunity of organizing a business mission next year to Thailand with a view to exploring all possible opportunities.

5) Aside from Thailand, what other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, if any, is Italy interested in? Could you expound on it?

A) Asia is going through a historical transformation: by 2050 it should account for over half of the world’s GDP (it accounted for 27% in 2010), with an average per capita income equal to today’s European and U.S. incomes. South-East Asia as a whole has recorded the world’s highest growth rates in the past few years: the GDP of the 10 ASEAN countries, representing a market of 650 million people, has made the Group the sixth world economy, which is expected to become the world’s fourth in 2030. Italy, as a major manufacturing economy with a strong vocation to export, cannot but be actively interested in the current changes that create opportunities for all sectors of the Italian industry, from machine tools to the agri-food sector, from consumer goods to luxury products. The region’s demand for infrastructure, clean energy, and services for sustainable urbanization is bound to increase at a very fast pace. Italy is ready to be a partner in this success story.

5) Has the Thai government asked you to discuss specific topics or proposals during your visit?

A) Together with our interlocutors in Thailand, the government and entrepreneurs, we have discussed a wide range of themes, at the bilateral and regional and global levels.

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