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Antonio Tajani Forges a European Fashion Alliance

The European Commission’s vice president for industry and entrepreneurship aims to build a solid coalition of industry players.

MILAN — Protecting intellectual property, boosting internationalization and innovation are the keys to safeguarding small and medium-size European fashion companies, industry leaders here said Thursday. 

“We have to help our businesses, especially our small and medium-size companies, in order to take advantage of their potential in the global arena,” said Antonio Tajani, the European Commission’s vice president for industry and entrepreneurship.

“This is the only way to emerge from this crisis and revive competitiveness and employment,” Tajani added.

The event was held at Milan’s Hotel Principe di Savoia and organized by Italian luxury goods association Fondazione Altagamma and was presided over by Italy’s Fashion Chamber president Mario Boselli and Andrea Illy, president of Fondazione Altagamma.

Tajani aims to build a solid coalition of industry players in order to strengthen the high-end fashion sector throughout Europe.

A road show of roundtable talks between Tajani and fashion industry leaders has already taken place in Madrid, will take place in Paris in September and will wrap up in London in December.

The European fashion industry is made up of 850,000 companies, most of which are small- and medium-size companies.

European high-end fashion companies make up 70 percent of the global high-end fashion market.

While Italian brands include such large players as Prada, Tod’s, Ferragamo and Giorgio Armani, about 90 percent of all of Italy’s fashion companies are represented by small and medium-size firms, said Michele Tronconi, of Italy’s fashion and textile consortium, Sistema Moda Italia.

Protecting intellectual property of European goods tops Tajani’s list. The market of contraband goods is worth more than 200 billion euros, or $260 billion at current exchange, worldwide and that is expected to double by 2015, he said.

Earlier this year, Tajani worked on measures to confiscate illegal products both present and in transit within the European Union and increase Internet awareness among copyright holders and tougher label laws.

Aside from intellectual property and unfair competition issues, Italian luxury leaders are battling rising tariffs, trade restrictions and an onslaught of counterfeit goods that obtain a ticket into Italy and the rest of the EU through the Internet and international postal services, said Armando Branchini, vice chairman of Fondazione Altagamma and executive team president of the European Cultural and Creative Industries Alliance, earlier this month.

Ridding the world of counterfeit goods and the presence of tariff and nontariff barriers would help lift the global value of luxury goods consumption and employment by about 30 to 35 percent, Branchini added.

In order to promote international commerce, Tajani and about 120 representatives around the industrial world have traveled to the U.S., Latin America and North Africa. This month, they traveled to Moscow and St. Petersburg to discuss boosting business with small and medium-size companies. In July, the delegation will travel to China and in the second half of the year, they will visit Vietnam, Burma, Thailand and Israel.

Tajani said he is working on various initiatives to boost competitiveness and innovation among small artisans and manufacturers in order to help them improve their designs and products.

About 70 percent of the world’s gross domestic product by 2020 will be generated by emerging countries.

Italian government and fashion leaders are working on a more direct way to prop up small companies: access to credit and government funding.

About 99 percent of all Italian enterprises are comprised of small and medium-size companies. In Italy, now facing its eighth consecutive quarter of economic contraction, saving small and medium-size companies is essential in reviving the economy.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government approved a new package of urgent measures aimed at kick-starting the country’s economy, including a 3 billion euro ($4 billion) investment in infrastructure works and increased funding for small and midsize companies.

Letta’s new coalition, which includes his own center-left Democratic Party and center-right People of Freedom party, also passed a package of measures worth 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion), which includes training measures and incentives that would cut payroll taxes for companies that hire young people between the ages of 18 and 29 on permanent/full-time contracts.

In Italy, youth unemployment is well over 40 percent, while overall unemployment is more than 12 percent, according to national Italian statistics office Istat.

The new government also aims to raise financial resources of up to 5 billion euros ($6.52 billion) by late 2016 for small and medium-size companies, which would subsequently make it easier for small companies to access credit and buy new machinery.