“Italy will not become the shopping outlet of other countries, as in 2008”. At the end of a meeting with the technical-scientific committee, the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, assured the business daily Il Sole 24 Ore that in the face of the crisis triggered by the coronavirus, “national strategic assets will be protected”. “A strong role of the State will be necessary during restart,” warned Di Maio, who applauded the Decree-Law in favour of Liquidity, claiming merit for the measures in support of export, obtained after lengthy discussions with the Minister of Economy and Finance, Roberto Gualtieri.
Minister Di Maio, you obtained 50 billion euros in guarantees for exports, in the decree in favour of Liquidity, and an additional 200 billion, to be added in 2021, for new investments. How will this stimulus work?
Those who will benefit from this new mechanism will mostly be the companies that need to be protected, continuing to ensure their competitiveness in global markets. It means protecting the future and employment. With the Decree-Law in favour of Liquidity, we decided to add a new role of Sace, to the Central Guarantee Fund’s traditional one. On the one hand, this allows Sace to provide for the first time guarantees in favour of financing operations requested by larger companies to the banking system, and, on the other hand, it will enable it to enhance financial support for exports. All within a framework of maximum transparency and speed in the relationship between companies and banks: no one will need to change the institution to which they apply. The aim is to ensure maximum support by simplifying procedures. Then we have the entire export and foreign trade front, on which we as the Farnesina are carefully working.
Indeed, exports. The injection of oxygen arrived after a long tug of war between you and Gualtieri...
Look, there was no tug of war, but only a debate aimed at ensuring the maximum effectiveness of the intervention model. I had one goal: to accept all the improvements proposed by Minister Gualtieri regarding the instruments of financial support to export, without subjecting the institutions dedicated to the provision of guarantees, nor the banks, or the companies to shocks related to changes in governance or management. The combined work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Ministry of Economy and Finance managed to keep Sace within the perimeter of the CDP (i.e. the National Promotion Institution), thus guaranteeing full operational continuity. The delicacy of having introduced a permanent “quasi-State Account” model, namely a significant guarantee of the State budget on financial operations in support of exports, suggested raising the bar of public supervision by attributing the task of deliberating the Sace business plan, regarding which the Budget Law will define the limits of the State’s exposure every year, to an ad hoc committee, composed of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defence. In the meantime, all prerogatives on the operation of Simest (i.e. the Italian Company for Foreign Joint Ventures) remain with the Farnesina. As far as exports are concerned, the enacted reform is an actual reform of the financial support system, which combines with the Integrated Promotion Fund and with the actions of the Promotion Plan for Made in Italy products.
Will the system manage to hold despite lockdown? You spoke of a new “pact for export”
Forecasting market resilience and performance at this moment would be misleading. Still, our system will hold if we all play our part. Italian companies have the potential to recover, and it’s our responsibility to do more and better to adapt the export support system to the new requirements. Today we sent out summons of 12 vertical tables, which will be held from 14 to 21 April in six days. We have invited the main reference confederations and associations of every sector of the industry, from innovation to banks, from clothing to agri-food, health, start-ups, agritourism, culture, and much more. The goal is to collect proposals for the recovery and re-launch of exports. The pact that I have in mind is based on a set of essential measures already launched, that we will be able to enhance when we convert the Cura Italia Decree-Law. For example, a significant offer of subsidised financing for exports, strategic communication, with an incisive nation branding campaign, a broader and more aggressive e-commerce strategy, an expansion of the territorial perimeter, and an increase of agreements with large international retailers, a significant effort in digitisation. And we have included all the derogations that are necessary so that these funds may be spent irrespective of bureaucratic time requirements.
Last 11 February, when the epidemic was sweeping only in China, you told us that it was time to focus on already mature markets. Do you still believe this today?
These days we have activated 45 of our embassies around the world to identify the most promising marketplaces in the different countries worldwide towards which to direct our systemic action, thanks to the funds that have been allocated through Ice, the Italian Trade Agency. An in-depth study has already been launched to engage the more permeable markets in this phase of acute crisis, that has had various developments and heavily involved both the United States and Europe.
The blow on the exhibition industry and congress tourism is undeniable. Will targeted interventions be carried out?
We are thinking of enhancing and modernising the fair system that definitely needs to be protected. An intervention to be integrated soon, also through the adoption of online ‘virtual fair’ models, open 365 days a year, or the creation of special B2B marketplaces for intermediate goods.
The debate on reopening policies has begun. Are you in favour of the reconstruction control room requested by the Democratic Party?
The scientific committee will tell us which steps need to be made. What I would say is that we must be careful because if we miss the timing of phase 2, we will go back to lockdown and will have to start over again. It’s difficult for all of us, but we must respect the rules to recover from this emergency as soon as possible. Reconstruction has already begun; the important thing will be to maintain the proactive spirit that the government is showing. Unity and compactness are the keywords.
Fraccaro did not rule out public capital interventions in companies, and yesterday Deputy Minister Castelli re-launched the idea of a new IRI (i.e. the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction). Do you envision temporary actions or a new public agency?
To date, what I can say is that the State shall make every effort to ensure that national strategic assets are protected. Italy will not become the shopping outlet of other countries, as in 2008. But it is clear that the State must play a substantial role in the restart process. The Italian system, production, and market shares must be protected as much as possible. No matter the names, but the ultimate goal is to restart as quickly as possible.
You have focused a lot on obtaining foreign aid, but you have also been accused of being too ‘pro-Chinese’ and too soft with Russia. Are you sure that the crisis will not change our geopolitical position?
This is a surreal film that is being played only in Italy. The United States is receiving significant aid from China, New York Governor Cuomo has publicly thanked Beijing for providing ventilators. Italy has received aid from all over the world, there are no political hues where solidarity is concerned. This is not about geopolitical structures or alliances, to which Italy obviously remains loyal, it’s about humanity.
In these hours the Eurogroup has met and you of the M5S have again raised your voices against the European Stability Mechanism. Do you think that the resistances can be overcome in front of a light States Rescue Fund alongside a fund for the issue of common bonds?
We are interested in finding the best possible agreement for Italians, which means extending it also to Europeans and to the EU’s future. In recent days, the main German car companies have made an appeal to the German government clearly stating that it will be almost impossible for them to produce German cars without the components produced in Italian plants. This is one of the many examples that shows how the EU cannot do without Italy. This is a blameless crisis, and it is clear that instruments thought for the past are obsolete today.
PM Conte has promised ‘a new spring’ for Italy, but there are those who invoke Draghi and those who speculate on cabinet reshuffles. Do you think this government has the right cards to guide phase 2?
I think that whoever starts talking about a new government today, with what we are currently going through, is out of this world.