In 2018, the export of Italian goods reached 462.8 billion euro. A number that, balanced by 423 billion in terms of imports, resulted in a surplus of foreign trade of 39.8 billion euro. Italian exports increased by three percent, mainly thanks to textiles and clothing, leather and accessories (3.3%), base metals and metal products (5.1%), transport, excluding motor vehicles (up 4.5%) pharmaceuticals, chemical-medicinal and botanicals (4.7%).
Is everything all right then? Not really, because too often Italian companies are left alone. An example of this is the story of Pelliconi Spa, which was founded 39 years ago and is now the leader in the beverage market for which it produces almost all of the caps on the market.
An analysis that Giuseppe Mazzarella, delegate for the internationalization of Confcraft – within the panel on stage at the Linkiesta Festival, of which Morning Future was media partner – shares, saying “politics should start to dialogue with the representatives of the business world, which is made up mainly of SME and micro-enterprises”. The numbers of the sector are telling: “In 2018 300 new artisanal companies opened every day. It means, with an average of three employees each, a market of 900 new employees every day. The club of Italian companies that have more than 250 employees is only 2%. The real body of Made in Italy is made of micro realities.”
A world made up of so many small realities that are today facing enormous challenges and obstacles. “Donald Trump's tariffs create a huge problem for Italian agricultural-food sector,” Mazzarella continues, “out of the 2.3 billion exports in the last 12 months, we are running the risk, in 2019, of losing one billion euros. A measure that strikes in fact a very important asset: the USA is for Italy the third country for export with a sector in which 90 thousand companies work. One cannot think that it should be the production fabric that finds solutions, as Pelliconi did.”
The problems for Mazzarella, however, do not stop at the here and now: “Our companies would need a lot of aid, not only from today, and not only in relation to the novelty of Trump. I am thinking of traceability, which, for example, in China is not guaranteed. This is not only a detriment to the consumer but also to the made in Italy total industry, because we lose our competitive advantage, which is quality, not to mention the fact that the saturation of the market lowers prices. We also need to work on sustainability. Small Italian companies do not fire, relocate, and continue to invest, and this must be valued.”
“The model for made in Italy must be Milan, with a new approach that embraces modernity”, Mattia Mor, MP of Italia Viva, explains. “I was an entrepreneur for fifteen years and I was a manager of Alibaba in Italy. I've only been involved in politics for two years. Milan summarizes the best features of Made in Italy. It is a city where all the supply chains are represented: from fashion to mechanics, from design to agricultural-food. And it's a city that moves as a system. Made in Italy does not only mean helping companies to export, but above all building a systemically-like strategy to export a story. Entrepreneurs are right: Italy must network to export brands and import tourism and investment. Incentives are needed to help companies go abroad, attract capital and tourists. Exports are what allowed us to stand during the crisis. It's the most strategic sector we have. But more and better needs to be done. We need a narrative that gives us credibility on the outside. What Milan did during Expo is the path that Italy should follow at the national level.”
The ground which Patrizia Toia, MEP of the Democratic Party, however, plans to play on are the European institutions, more so than national. “The debate on Made in Italy, in particular with respect to European policies, is heavily polluted by fake news,” she stresses, “many of the proposals to make international trade agreements have been ostracised for no reason. I am thinking in particular of TTIP, which has run aground, and CETA. But no one ever talks, especially after the fact, about the agreements that have been made and the results they have achieved. A few weeks ago, for example, a protocol was negotiated between Europe and China for the protection of 100 geographically indicated products. Of these, 25 are Italian and 26 are French. On the Chinese market from today they will be protected from counterfeits and imitations. The agreement with South Korea was highly contested: well, years later it has allowed savings and the holding of European car exports. With Canada, two years after CETA came into force, the results for the European economy are excellent. All these treaties protect the internal market from substandard products, such as GMO meat, but also our cultural identity, which is not eaten or produced but which is very important. Agreements with Japan and Vietnam will also start shortly.”
But for Toia the question of made in Italy is not asked enough and can be solved through technology: “We fill our mouths with this “made in” but never realize it. The only progress has been made by the European Parliament. Even today, however, everything is still. I think we need to shift the focus to something else, call it another way. We need to start talking about traceability. There is a special European program that is funded as a trial to see if you can use blockchain on these digital labeled topics. This may be the new way out of the corner where we have slipped and arrive at the true protection of Made in Italy,” she concludes.