'Main course' still ahead, Li says
Premier Li Keiqang said the main course of Sino-Italian cooperation is yet to come and the $10 billion in deals being signed on Tuesday were merely the appetizer.
His remarks came after Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi described the deals as no more than an “antipasto” that should open the way to more cooperation with China in the future.
More than a dozen deals were signed on Tuesday in sectors ranging from energy to engineering, deepening Beijing's commercial ties with the eurozone's third-largest economy.
China has already spent more than $845 million on Italian products this year, according to the Ministry of Commerce.
“The fact that Sino-Italian trade has increased significantly against the backdrop of global economic recession demonstrates the huge potential of our cooperation,” Li said at a joint news conference.
“We must bring more China to Italy and take more Italy to China,” Renzi agreed.
Experts said the agreements signed on Tuesday will facilitate investment from Italy to China, with better financial services and specific destinations especially reserved for Italian investors.
Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University of China, said Italy urgently needs China's experience and financial support after being stuck in a financial crisis for the third time since 2008, and it lacks money for infrastructure upgrading.
Italy's state lender CDP approved a $3.79 billion deal with China Development Bank. The CDP gave no details but said the projects could be in infrastructure, direct equity investments or export financing, Reuters reported.
In addition, the state investment fund, FSI, signed a memorandum of understanding with China Investment Corp, a sovereign wealth fund responsible for managing part of China's foreign exchange reserves, for joint investment projects involving up to $645 million.
The $10 billion package also includes an agreement on the construction of Sino-Italian ecological parks in China's State-level development zones, as pilot trials to introduce Italy's eco-friendly urban management technologies such as water processing.
Li arrived in Rome on Tuesday and will deliver a speech at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization, before attending the Asia-Europe Meeting with dozens of government leaders in Milan on Thursday and Friday.
Li said China wished to strengthen cooperation with small and medium-sized businesses and would encourage more Chinese tourists to visit Italy.
Days before the premier's arrival, State Grid Corp of China bought a 35 percent stake in the energy grid holding company CDP Reti for 2.1 billion euros ($2.66 billion) and Shanghai Electric Group took a 40 percent stake in power engineering company Ansaldo Energia from Italian state fund FSI in a deal worth 400 million euros.
As well as being a big buyer of Italian government bonds, China's central bank has made a series of significant investments in blue-chip Italian companies this year. They include stakes of about 2 percent in Italy's biggest carmaker, Fiat Chrysler, top domestic telecom operator Telecom Italia and world-leading cable maker Prysmian.
In March, the central bank bought similar stakes in leading oil and gas operator Eni - an investment worth 1.3 billion euros - and in utility Enel.
Italy is the last stop of Li's three-nation Europe tour, which has also taken him to Germany and Russia.