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Di Stefano: “Only 800 SMEs out of 140 thousand use export funds” (Il Sole 24 Ore)

The pact for export, presented last June 8th by Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio with a funding of 1.4 billion euros, enters the operational phase. In the last few days, the Foreign Ministry’s Facilitation Committee has outlined the new guidelines for the use by Simest of the instruments defined by Law 394 on internationalisation, now refinanced for an amount of 900 million (of which 300 non-repayable). “We aim – explains Manlio Di Stefano, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an interview to Il Sole 24 Ore – to broaden the number of companies that access funds provided for by Law 394 (only 800 small businesses out of 14 thousand used this tool in 2019), through a set of measures, including: the allocation of € 900 million for subsidised loans at very convenient rates for businesses; the elimination of the requirement to submit guarantees in order to be eligible to apply for it; the possibility to access an additional non-repayable loan of up to 50% of the subsidised loan for a maximum of 800 thousand euros per company. We also chose to retain 70% of the fund’s total allocation for companies with a turnover of up to 50 million euros: a clear signal of support to small and medium-sized enterprises”.

Extended operation

Di Stefano points out that the operation of Law 394 has been extended also to EU countries, where the volume of exchanges of our SMEs is greater, and the type of projects eligible for financing, such as the creation of warehouses in Italy, a key element for the growth of ecommerce, has been extended as well. A dedicated support, underlines the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs, that will concern the certification of conformity that companies will have to submit for each individual country “relieving companies from this significant ‘barrier’ to access to foreign markets”.

Diplomatic recognition

To cover the structural weakness of the Italian digital export system, adds Di Stefano, we asked the embassies for a survey of the main market places in the world (450 estimated in total), not only the best known digital giants such as Amazon and Alibaba, with the aim to rapidly sing at least 25 agreements in order to give greater visibility to Italian products. Again, with the funds foreseen by Law 394, we shall be able to finance training courses for technical staff and the creation of digital platforms, while a 30 million fund shall be used to bear the costs of companies that will make use of the Digital Export Managers.

The third pillar of the pact

But special attention will also be given to the third pillar of the Pact for export, which concerns information and training, in particular for small businesses that have never dealt with foreign markets. It is a first attempt to initiate small businesses, that are advised of the opportunities offered by the national and regional public subsidies system, to export. In this regard, observes Di Stefano, “the first step involves the recently published e-book for companies, while in mid-July the new single portal for internationalisation created by Ice, Sace and Simest will be launched, specially designed to meet the specific needs of all types of companies through the use of artificial intelligence tools; then in the autumn a second version expanding the website’s functionalities will be launched”.

Integrated promotion

As regards the integrated promotion sponsored directly with the Foreign Ministry’s funds (such as the “Vivere all’Italiana” – i.e. “Living the Italian Way” – programmes presented in Italian embassies abroad), Di Stefano announces an additional allocation of 30 million to broaden the sectors to be presented: not only the Made in Italy highlights (the famous three F’s), but also innovative sectors such as aerospace, biomedical and mechanics.

Start-ups and venture capital

A separate chapter concerns start-ups. “We are working – Di Stefano announces – to reform the Venture Capital Fund managed by Simest, which today acts more as a lender, in order to transform it into a true venture capital fund capable of directing a precise strategy to grow our start-ups with acquisitions and mergers”. Lastly, as regards participation in fairs, in addition to the extraordinary communication campaign currently under definition, which will be aimed at relaunching the ‘Italy brand’, Di Stefano announces new actions deriving from Italian Trade Agency (ICE) refreshments for trade fairs cancelled during spring 2020, to the sector’s autumn mini-fairs, the free ICE module for 2021 trade fairs, the attraction of buyers and VIP influencers, the activation of a digital system for B2B sector meetings. “I would like to remind you that Simest’s revolving fund allows financing also the participation of Italian companies in international fairs”.

Don’t let your guard down

“We are well aware that we must not lower our guard; for this reason, we will continue to implement adequate tools to support the exhibition system, both in this delicate phase of coexistence with the virus, and in a fully post-Covid era, which we hope will come as soon as possible”, concluded Undersecretary Di Stefano.

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