China and Italy’s memorandum of understanding (MOU) on advancing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will serve as a “promotional tool” to increase bilateral trade and investment, according to an Italian official.

The deal can help close the gap between Italy and other European countries in exports to China and Chinese investment, said Michele Geraci, Under-Secretary of state at the Italian Ministry of Economic Development.

“Italian exports to China amount to 13 billion euros while French exports total 20 billion euros. This MOU will hopefully be first turned into 7 billion of extra trade,” he said during a speech at Fudan University in Shanghai on Tuesday.

He said increased exports to China are crucial to the Italian economy, as this sector has been Italy’s primary driver of growth over the past year.

Geraci also pointed to the perceived surge in Chinese investment following the agreement to a level on par with European economies of a similar scale.

China and Italy signed the MOU during President Xi Jinping’s visit to the country in March to advance the construction of BRI.

The two sides have spoken of the initiative’s potential in promoting connectivity, and both are expected to strengthen the alignment of the BRI and Trans-European Transport Networks.

China and Italy are further expected to deepen cooperation in ports, logistics, and marine transportation, according to a joint communique issued last month.

Geraci said the MOU will give Italy a first-mover advantage in engagement with China.

“We are leading the European Union. And this is a step in a direction that is good for our country and our people,” he said.

Aside from trade and investment, the MOU also deals with green energy, agriculture and people-to-people communications, he said.

A total of 20-25 Italian startups are to this year spend six months in Chinese incubators, where they’ll get to “work with Chinese peers, co-develop products, and find new financing channels”, he said.