I would like to share with you and your readers some thoughts on the figures relating to Italian exports in recent months and on the Foreign Ministry’s contribution to the achievement of this result. After the deep recession recorded last year, 2021 is confirming itself as a year of transition, characterised – albeit with significant differences between countries – by a strong rebound of the world economy. As Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation we had forecasted the effects that the phenomena, further accelerated by the pandemic, would have on our production system, which is the reason why, over a year ago, we promoted the Pact for Export, as the result of a process of dialogue and discussion with over 140 trade associations.
We redesigned the aims of public support for exports and revised the budget, which now amounts to 5.4 billion euros, focusing on digital transition, strengthening the human capital and technological growth to relaunch Italian products on foreign markets. Over 60% of our exports come from just four regions (Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Lazio). This is the underlying reason why I was looking to prioritise support for internationalisation of Southern Italian companies and increase the share of exports from the South, also in the face of the severe economic and social repercussions of the pandemic.
We have therefore rethought the strategies for accompanying our Southern enterprises in foreign markets and developed new and more effective tools. We have also strengthened the partnership between the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry for the South and Regional Cohesion, which was promoted at the latest meeting of the Steering Committee for Internationalisation and which took shape, last May, with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two Ministries. It is also thanks to these reforms that, this year, we have recorded a real boom in exports. If, in fact, we compare the first eight months of 2021 with the same period last year, we will see a 22% increase in exports. In absolute terms, exports in the first eight months of 2021 – close to 332 billion euros – exceeded not only the 271 billion euros of the same period last year, but also the 316 billion euros recorded in the first eight months of 2019, which is remembered as the golden year of Italian exports. We are also doing better than our main European partners: the increase in Italian exports in January-August 2021 topped the increase in Germany (+16%), France (+17%) and Spain (+21%).
Geographically, Italy’s exports towards both mature markets and many non-European markets have grown considerably.
On the one hand, trade relations with our main partners in the European Union – in particular France, Germany and Spain – are significantly on the rise. But in January-August 2021 there was a strong year-on-year increase to all major non-European markets as well. Particularly important were the increases in terms of sales of Italian products to China and India – proof of the strategic nature of Asian markets for Italian companies – but also to Mercosur countries, Turkey and the United States. These forecasts inspire confidence and offer Italian companies the possibility to reposition themselves and seize new business opportunities.
For the near future, we wish to continue to preside over the more mature markets, seeking to further increase our market share, and at the same time invest in gaining ever larger footholds in new, high-potential markets. The countries we want to focus on for our business support activities include – besides Italy’s traditional markets, as already mentioned – Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Canada and Qatar, which still have untapped potential for Italian products. Brazil, Mexico and Saudi Arabia should also be added, due to their demographic weight or favourable economic prospects. I would also like to highlight here the importance of Asia, especially in light of the signing of the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) accord, which also includes China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, on top of the 10 ASEAN Member States. These markets are worth a total of 39 billion euros for Italy (8% of its exports) and their control remains fundamental for its economic recovery in the coming years. Finally, because of their extraordinary growth potential and the foreseeable transformation of consumption habits, some African countries, including South Africa, Nigeria and Senegal, deserve particular attention.
In this regard, among the numerous initiatives implemented by the Foreign Ministry, as part of its activities envisaged by the Steering Committee for Internationalisation, we intend to carry out, in partnership with the research facilities of Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, Sace, Simest and Ice, in-depth studies on the most promising sectors in some high-potential markets (the first pilot studies will concern China and Vietnam). These analyses will form the core of the future development of actual industrial plans, with a view to supporting Italy’s businesses in penetrating strategic markets according to a systemic and coordinated effort. In the same vein is the initiative that will further extend, in the coming days, the instruments of the Pact for Export, through a new Business Matching Platform, designed by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti.
This tool will enable Italian enterprises to find business counterparts abroad and, at the same time, foreign companies to identify potential Italian partners among the businesses registered with the platform. The platform, which will be activated in the first phase with a focus on three target countries (China, India, Japan), will then be extended to other priority areas and will be made accessible through the portal export.gov.it, a tool that we strongly support at the Foreign Ministry, for the purpose of systemically reorganising the entire institutional approach to the internationalisation of Italian enterprises. Our ultimate goal is to ensure the permanent and structural establishment and implementation, through both this set of initiatives and dedicated appropriations provided for in the draft budget law, of policies aimed at strengthening the positioning of Italian business in foreign markets, according to two drivers: intensifying the perception of the uniqueness and high quality of Italian products and promoting more and more economic operators focusing on the excellence of their ouput on both the mature and new global markets. One of the greatest advantages of Italian products is their ability to combine innovation and creativity with respect for tradition and their local rootedness: these traits, which the Foreign Ministry and its diplomatic-consular network will continue to enhance, remain key to Italy’s success in the years to come.