The Italian minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio, detailed Italy’s approach to China during the Nov. 26 parliamentary hearing.

Starting his speech, Di Maio recalled his mission to Shanghai, where he participated in the opening of the China International Import Expo event, where about 160 Italian companies were presenting their products to the Chinese buyers and investors. His Shanghai visit occurred in the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese project in line with, as stated by Di Maio, the principles of transparency, inclusivity, financial, environmental, and economic sustainability, fair treatment and procurement, and the protection of intellectual property rights.

The Italian minister then revealed the details of his official bilateral meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Wand Yi, and the Beijing minister of Trade, Zhong Shan, with whom Di Maio defined further cooperation and development initiatives.

Bolstering cooperation with China, as explained by Di Maio, means following the 5 Italy’s top priorities: the elimination of trade barriers; the agri-food sector development; the growth of the transports and connectivity structures; the promotion of tourism; the equilibrium of the trade balance.

Starting from trade barriers, Di Maio insisted on Italy’s need to remove all the limits that China posed on its imports, a factor that obstructs Italian companies’ market entry strategies.

The second priority is the agri-food sector, referring to which the Italian minister recognized that Rome aims at signing technical agreements that can promote and enable Italian exports of goods that are abundantly produced in Italy, such as rice or cattle.

The third top priority is the area of transports and connectivity, on which Di Maio remarked the Italian desire to improve the conditions of the harbor system, together with the Italian international connecting points.

Tourism is a key priority for Italy and, for it to further improve, Di Maio announced he proposed the renegotiation of the already existing aeronautical Agreement so that the China-to-Italy routes can be redesigned and improved.

Finally, the Italian minister revealed he has the intention to reach parity in the trade balance between Italy and China, particularly referring to the productivity investment flows.

The Italian Five Star Movement MP Pino Cabras recalled that Cina-Italy economic exchanges have seen a higher growth rate in 2019 if compared to the previous years. This is partly a direct effect of the frequent contacts Rome had with Beijing in the last year, the most important of which occurred last Mar. 23, when the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, visited Italy, where he signed 19 institutional MoUs and 10 trade agreements, in the framework of the Belt and Road initiative.

These ties between Italy and China, however, make concerns arise in the political opposition, contesting that Italy might become a bridge to further expand Chinese influence in Europe.

Replying to this, thus, Di Maio enhanced that more than half of European countries have signed similar Memorandum of Understandings and trade protocols in the framework of the Belt and Road initiative. This, according to Di Maio, is a demonstration of how Italy is not acting differently than most of its neighbors. Furthermore, as enhanced by the Italian minister, other European countries are having more frequent meetings with Beijing than Italy.

The opposition concerns also refer to the issue of cybersecurity, particularly after the United States highlighted the risks connected to the Chinese main telco company, Huawei Technologies Co LTD. The company had been repeatedly accused by Washington of spying its users on behalf of the Chinese government. Also, Huawei is suspected to be responsible for violating and stealing the intellectual property rights of the US. The claims have always been denied by the Chinese telco giant.

On cybersecurity, Di Maio also recalled that on Sept. 21 the Italian government passed a decree-law, then transformed into law, on urgent provisions on cybersecurity matters. The law adopted, as commented by the Italian minister, made Italy the “most-advanced European country” on the 5G security normative requirements and provisions.

 

This article was firstly published on Nov. 29, 2019

Jasmine Ceremigna