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China, Italy expect growing commerce on back of better connectivity

Xinhua | Updated: 2019-03-23 19:14
The Costa Venezia, designed and built especially for the Chinese market by Genoa-headquartered Costa Cruises, an Italian major operator, began a 53-day voyage to China earlier this month and will arrive at its Shanghai home port in May. [Photo/Agencies]

ROME -- While cities such as Rome, Milan and Venice benefit from the vigor and vitality of the Chinese economy by welcoming hundreds of thousands of tourists each year from the Asian country, Trieste, Italy's northeasternmost port, is looking to benefit from the growing commerce between the two countries on the back of better connectivity.

The small city of about 200,000, in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, has been Italy's trade hub throughout history. It is now adding more features to better serve as the gateway to trade in Europe.

Business leaders see an opportunity from the expanding connectivity championed by the Belt and Road Initiative, a development initiative proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 to drive growth by enhancing connectivity across Asia, Europe, Africa and beyond.

"We are carrying out a project that has been talked about for the past 25 years, namely, that Italy must become a logistical platform for the Mediterranean Sea," Zeno D'Agostino, president of the Italian Association of Ports and vice president of the European Sea Ports Organisation said in a recent interview.

THRIVING PORTS

The cooperation has been expanding fast between the two countries that have shared stories of travel, exploration and connectivity since the time of Marco Polo. Italian ports along the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic coast are now thriving with growing Chinese cargo, while more and more Italian goods are serving Chinese consumers.

China is now Italy's largest trading partner in Asia, with bilateral trade reaching 42 billion euros in 2017, according to statistics from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Italy, meanwhile, is a key trade and economic partner of China. Equally if not more importantly, Italy also serves as a bridge in the cooperation between China and Europe. The Italy-China Foundation said at a meeting in Trieste in February that Italy is the third largest recipient of Chinese investments in Europe, behind Britain and Germany.

The high-level visits between Italy and China have been frequent. The current Italian government, since taking office in June 2018, has sent its Finance Minister Giovanni Tria, Economic Development Undersecretary Michele Geraci, and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio on visits to China.

Di Maio's visit was "very well-received," said Chinese Ambassador to Italy Li Ruiyu.

CHINA TASK FORCE

In October last year, a task force on China was set up at Italy's Economy and Finance Ministry.

Foreign Undersecretary Manlio Di Stefano said the objectives of the Task Force include "more access to the Chinese market, better quality products and more investments."

"We want to set up a systematic approach," said Geraci, adding that the China Task Force will be subdivided into four general focus areas covering cooperation with China in third countries, China's macro economy and politics, high technology and chemicals, and culture and education.

"This could be a way to acquire mutual trust and gain access to the Chinese market," Geraci said.

Italian products have been popular in China as people in the Asian country enjoyed rising incomes and a better life.

"We expect the Task Force to help strengthen the two countries' cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative and contribute to a closer EU-China relationship," said Ambassador Li.

ITALY IN CHINA-EUROPE COOPERATION

In September last year, China and Italy signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on third-country cooperation.

Business leaders from both sides look forward to better cooperation, both between Italy and China and in third countries.

On March 8, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said at an event in Genoa that he sees the Belt and Road Initiative as "an opportunity for Italy and for Europe."

D'Agostino, the ports association leader, sees the port Trieste riding on the growing commerce as it is expected to have a large quayside, a railway terminal, container deposit areas, offices, parking and a free zone that can be used not only for warehousing but also for assembling goods.

The key to a successful port, he said, is in creating added value to the containers.

He said the global container fleet is expected to grow 31.5 percent by 2019, and China "has taken on a dominant role" in the container shipping sector. The Italian ports want China's business, he said.

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