A delegation of around 50 Italian companies will be participating in this year’s 17th Addis Chamber International Trade Fair-ACITF from 21-27 of February 2013. Italian Ambassador to Ethiopia Renzo Rosso talked to Capital on how the participation of the delegation will help strengthen the commercial ties between the two countries.
Capital: How is participating in Addis Chamber International Trade Fair-ACITF helps the economic and commercial ties between the two countries?
Renzo Rosso: ACITF is a privileged looking point towards the Ethiopian economy. During one week Addis Ababa, becomes the centre of the activity of hundreds of local and international companies interested in this market and willing to enhance their business. It is a crucial moment for networking, especially important for small and medium enterprises, which are the spine of Italian economic success.
We have participated in all the previous editions of the Fair but this year our business delegation, promoted and coordinated by the Italian Institute for External Trade (ICE), will be especially numerous: nearly 50 companies. We deem it a very concrete sign of our interest and trust in the future of this country and of our confidence in the potential of Ethio-Italian economic cooperation.
Let me just stress some meaningful data: bilateral trade exchange has scaled up from around 200 million Euros in 2010 to around 290 in 2011 thanks to an increase of both Italian and Ethiopian bilateral exports. Italy is the first European provider to Ethiopia and its second European client.
Capital: In what areas are the delegates interested in investing?
Renzo: Our companies are representative of a very wide spectrum of business sectors, including agro industry, textile and leather, water engineering, construction, telecommunication and packaging, apart from mechanical machineries in a broad sense.
Some of them will be looking for a merely commercial partnership, others for investment opportunities. More in general, we hope they will be able to take a closer, direct look at the business environment and the concrete opportunities offered by the Ethiopian market.
Capital: What is the aim of the B2B session that will be held at the Addis Hilton and what do you think the outcome would be?
Renzo: The aim of the B2B session we have scheduled on Friday 22nd is twofold: on one side, presenting products, activities and experience of the Italian firms; on the other, favoring the research of appropriate and accountable local partners. As public institution, we provide the general framework, a sort of facilitating platform, but at the end of the day it is up to the business people themselves to do the rest, by establishing a direct contact with local counterparts. By the way, should some of your readers be interested in finding out about B2B with the Italian companies, they can contact the Trade Desk of the Italian Embassy in the following days.
Capital: What do you think are some of the challenges investors from Italy faced and continue to face when investing in Ethiopia?
Renzo: There is no investment without challenges, and Italian business people are well aware of it! We believe that there has been a positive effort on the part of Ethiopian Government towards a gradual opening of the economic system to the private sector. Challenges remain important and some of the issues raised by the business and local international communities, regarding problems in logistics, financing, customs and taxation, lack of foreign exchange or in judicial security are an example of that.
Nevertheless, there is a lot that we can do to overcome those problems, jointly with local authorities, and I can see several ways to encourage a major role for private companies. First, accompanying the Ethiopian Government in its effort to attract new international investors and show how positive competition would be for local economic growth.
Second, establish an open dialogue with local authorities in order to find shared, workable solutions, which is what we are already doing both through the association of Italian companies operating in Ethiopia, IBCA, and the European Business Forum-EUBFE.
Third, with regard to our development cooperation initiatives, shifting from a purely aid-oriented approach to a partnership-oriented one: for instance fostering the growth of local capacities making use of the Italian industrial know-how; favoring joint endeavors between the Ethiopian and the Italian private sector; promoting public-private partnerships, etc.
Capital: How bad has Italy been affected by the economic crisis in Europe and how does that affect investments you do in other countries.
Renzo: The international economic crisis has severely affected our economy, as well as many others in the Euro Zone. Still, thanks to rigorous reforms and economic sacrifices, we have managed to control the damage. A good deal of work has been done, even if we are not yet at the end of the tunnel and if the economy appears to be still sluggish. Therefore the next Government – whoever wins the elections on 24-25 February – will have to speed up reforms, balancing a necessary attention to financial soundness with a greater attention to growth.
In the meanwhile, the external sector has helped our economy. That is why the crisis in Europe, while being painful, may be also a great opportunity to look outwards, seeking abroad new opportunities and fruitful investments.
Capital: What new cooperation activities have you planned with Ethiopia?
Renzo: Despite the economic crisis, we have managed to not only maintain, but even increase the amount pledged to support Ethiopia. Indeed, by adopting new aid instruments, the Italian Government will make available an envelope of around 65 million Euros made up of both high concessional soft loans and of a grant component of around 22 million euro for the next 3 years.
Italy is currently finalizing the new Ethio-Italian Country Programme 2013 – 2015 and, to this aim, in the past months we have been involved in an intense consultation process with the relevant Ethiopian Ministries, stakeholders and development partners.
A focus will be maintained on some priority sectors where Italy has already been active in past years: agriculture, water & sanitation, education and health. Furthermore, a special attention will be lent to private sector and gender as cross-cutting issues. In particular, in line with the Ethiopian Government’s strategies and the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, Italy will foster its support to the agricultural sector, focusing on smallholder farmers and drought resilience long-term interventions. Furthermore, Italy is working together with other European Countries in order to harmonize their development strategies, offering to Ethiopia a more consistent and efficient collaboration.