Italian Finance Minister Giovanni Tria stressed here on Wednesday that protectionist policies “do not benefit the economy and generally damage the countries involved.”

Addressing the first Italy-China Finance Dialogue, Tria said institutional and entrepreneurial cooperation between countries is more crucial than ever today “in a context characterised by growing signals of protectionism.”

Chinese Finance Minister Liu Kun and his Italian counterpart Tria presided over the event, which saw the participation of key public and private stakeholders from both sides.

Sino-Italian relations reached a peak in March with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Rome to jointly advance the construction of the the Belt and Road.

In his address to the forum, Tria said that Italian exports to China grew from about 9 billion euros in 2010 to 13.2 billion euros in 2018, while imports from China have settled more or less at around 30 billion.

“There is still a wide room for improvement, which ought to be explored,” Tria stressed.

Data from the Italian Finance Ministry and European Union (EU) statistical office Eurostat showed that trade between Italy and China exceeded 43 billion euros in 2018.

Italy was China’s fourth largest supplier from Europe in 2018, while China was the ninth destination market for Italian exports at global level, and the most important one in Asia.

“I am sure the bilateral dialogue taking place today, which consists of different sessions to address financial, banking, and insurance issues in particular, will provide mutual benefits,” Tria added.