A present of huge importance is forming for the economic partnership between Italy and China. Those factors that up to the recent past represented a barrier to collaboration, namely the similarity of the countries’ productive specialisation and the narrow dimensions of Italian business, have now turned into the potential for current and future development.
This happens at a time in which the Belt and Road Initiative, as part of a wider renewed economic strategy of the Chinese government, is reshaping the global commercial environment, creating room for unprecedented business relations between the two countries.
China is pursuing future growth by boosting consumption, technological progress and industrial upgrading as well as carrying out a new approach to international cooperation, particularly through the Belt and Road Initiative. In all these respects, Italy could be a valuable partner to work with, both within national borders and cross-border, for all the countries involved in the initiative.
The initiative entails a wide range of opportunities for Italian businesses, which can be broadly summarised as being in three main areas: opportunities that derive directly from infrastructure, satellite opportunities, and those linked to consumer goods.
In the first two areas, Italian firms could find business opportunities both directly linked to the actual building of infrastructural projects and, indirectly, from all the collateral projects that emerge around any new would-be infrastructure project.
Many of the top GDP economies embraced by the Belt and Road Initiative are particularly open to foreign businesses, for example, Russia, India, South Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Poland, and they require high environmental standards and cutting-edge technologies. As for the satellite opportunities, these could be urbanisation, decontamination and water treatment projects, as well as services such as sanitation, transmission and energy supplies; these too demand high-quality standards.
Italian enterprises have, in this respect, good chances to be awarded subcontracts and be suppliers for Chinese contractors. For over 30 years, Italy has been the second greatest European manufacturing country — behind only Germany — and the seventh worldwide, with many companies as market leaders in sectors that have made “Made in Italy” famous around the world.
Research and innovation are traditionally integrated with industrial processes, and we have excellence in natural sciences (neuroscience), physics and engineering (for example, robotics) and other specific sectors (archaeology and high-tech, for example).
The most internationalised Italian enterprises are also the ones that display relevant expertise in the practice of working together with other businesses thanks to the experience of industrial districts, which represent a strategic asset of our productive system and an Italian prerogative worldwide. In these local realities, the companies had the chance to experience beforehand the so-called Global Value Chain phenomenon that now permeates global economics and trade.
Lastly, the growth and development stimulated by the Belt and Road Initiative can push and shape the demand for consumer goods (for example, fashion, furniture and appliances) thus triggering new opportunities for our exports of consumer goods, which are traditionally a strategic sector of our economy.
Beside a productive structure that makes it competitive in the global supply chain, Italy has a strong national system of support and incentives for internationalisation that allow it to fully realise its vocation for exports.
In the competition we are about to face, where huge opportunities of growth for our exports and the country as a whole are at stake, SACE, as Italy’s export credit agency, is ready to play its part beside Italian and Chinese enterprises.
The agency can facilitate the match between demand and supply by making the purchasing of Made in Italy more competitive for Chinese contractors, both in terms of individual companies and of the organisation of production chains. SACE’s office in Shanghai, inaugurated last year, will further tighten the collaboration between the many actors in this process.