THE ECONOMY AS A TRUMP CARD FOR PEACE IN THE BALKANS
The National Conference “Italy and the Western Balkans: Growth and Integration” to be held in Trieste on Tuesday, 24 January, is an initiative that I strongly supported to mark Italy’s new political activism in the region, launching a national strategy to strengthen the presence of our companies, but also to foster greater economic interconnection of the Western Balkans’ countries. We must accelerate a process of sustainable development that has a strategic political objective, i.e. to increase stability and security at our borders also with the economy.
It is by no mere coincidence that the main realities of the Italian production world interested in the Western Balkans will meet in Trieste, together with the institutions called upon to accompany and assist them on foreign markets.
The actions to support our exports will strengthen a trend that is already underway, considering that in 2021 we recovered and exceeded the levels recorded before the pandemic, increasing our exports by 4.7% as against 2019. The first nine months of 2022 saw a 31% increase compared to the same period in 2021. We will also benefit from a dynamic and positive economic growth of the countries in the region. Suffice it to say that GDP in Serbia grew by 24% in the two-year period 2020-2022.
In view of increasing the market share of our products, we will carry out many promotional actions in the coming months, according to a differentiated schedule by country, which will favour the supply of our companies through the large-scale distribution channels of the Balkan countries. This means that numerous agri-food companies, hundreds of small and medium-sized enterprises, will find a place on the shelves of 700 stores in areas dedicated to Made in Italy products. In May Italy will also be a partner in the major international agricultural Fair in South-Eastern Europe, which will take place in Serbia.
In Trieste we will make it clear that we have provided a specific line of credit for our companies, especially small and medium-sized ones, to enable them to successfully manage their presence in the Balkans.
In Trieste we will confirm that with Fund 394/81, managed by SIMEST, we have created a specific fund of 200 million euros reserved for operations in the Western Balkans. Companies will be able to use the fund to finance access to these markets; to enhance the use of e-Commerce; to cover the cost for certifying their products; to temporarily hire managers specialised in digital export mechanisms, or to finance feasibility studies, participation in trade fairs or professional consultancy services. These loans will benefit from a 10% non-repayable share. The rest will be at strongly capped rates and with a total exemption from requiring guarantees. In the coming months we will also devote a great deal of attention to transnational projects involving the Western Balkans. Regional connectivity, with the infrastructure development projects that are linked to it – particularly in the railway sector – and energy and ecological transition play a central role in this strategy.
In Trieste we will also discuss how to attract the EU funds earmarked for the construction of the “Pan-European Corridor 10”, which runs through Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, North Macedonia and Greece, ending at the Greek ports of Thessaloniki and Igoumenitsa. These are strategic works for Italy for the inter-regional integration of the Balkans and for the connections with Italy. However, it is also about works worth 2 billion euros, which rise to 6.5 billion if we also consider the funds made available by the Croatian National Recovery and Resilience Plan. With a view to attracting them, an incisive action will be needed towards the multilateral development banks, such as the EBRD and EIB (present in Trieste), with institutional missions to accompany and assist our companies.
Another objective common to the countries of the region is to make progress on the energy transition front. The Western Balkans’ countries still heavily depend on fossil fuels for the production of electricity. For these countries, too, it is crucial to initiate a transition to more sustainable energy production modes by increasing investment in renewables. We will indicate the multiple national, European and multilateral financing sources.
I am also thinking of the ongoing operations in the area of SACE, which is also present in Trieste, that will undoubtedly act as a driving force for the acquisition of important orders by our companies. Italy is already a reference point in the Balkans. Just think of the power line between Italy and Montenegro, the first electric bridge built by TERNA between Italy and the Balkans. We will therefore be called upon to strengthen our role as a European and Mediterranean hub in electricity transmission, extending our action in the region. On 24 January, in Trieste, we will therefore start a common path and a collective effort of all Italy’s energies. Italy wants to play a key role and wants to be a protagonist in the process of development and integration with EU markets of a region having a strategic interest to it. Make the economy grow to strengthen peace and stability.