MILAN — Investing in human capital is the key to a prosperous future, according to Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who, along with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, opened the fifth China-Italy Innovation Forum on Thursday at the Politecnico University of Milan.
The forum took place in conjunction with the 10th edition of the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting, which brings together 50 European and Asian prime ministers to discuss possible partnerships between Europe and Asia to guarantee sustainable and safe growth for both continents. The decision to organize the forum in Milan put the accent on the relevant role the city is playing internationally and the impending start of Expo 2015. For that occasion, New York mayor Bill de Blasio, along with his family, will be in Milan to support the Italian city’s creation of a food policy that regulates how food is produced, processed, distributed and purchased.
On Thursday, Renzi said it was “not easy for both Italy and China to think about the future without considering their glorious past. Sometimes, in Italy, we have the feeling that our great tradition is a roadblock that leaves us stuck to what we were a long time ago,” emphasizing the two countries’ different speeds of growth, especially in the high-tech and innovation sectors. “But, in Italy, we can offer not only an incredible artistic heritage, fashion, food [and] an innovative manufacturing business but, most of all, the incredible quality of our students. So, we have to insist on curiosity, creativity, innovation and education.”
As part of the celebration to mark the 10-year partnership between Italy and China, the Xi’an Jiaotong University chose as its science partner the Politecnico University of Milan to develop a research center for industrial design.
This collaboration is only one of the numerous synergies that have been created between the two countries. A day earlier, 20 partnership agreements were signed to address different sectors, from finance to industrial energy services, for a total value of 8 billion euros, or $10.2 billion at current exchange.
“China and Italy can guarantee a prosperous future for themselves only through bilateral trade agreements,” said Keqiang. “The partnerships we created reflect the huge changes happening as international players cooperate and, while being focused on business areas such as finance, for example, they accent the innovative and technological goals reached through creative ways.”
Keqiang also underlined the need to defend intellectual property “to protect a creative cooperation.”
The Chinese prime minister’s statement sounded like a directive to solve one of the biggest problems affecting Italy-China commercial relations: the lack of regulations defending the high element of creativity that characterizes the products designed and manufactured in Italy, which, in many cases, are negatively impacted by the competition of cheaper copies made in China.
On Wednesday, Renzi noted that China is, after the U.S., the second-most-important non-European commercial partner for Italy. In 2013, the commercial exchanges between the countries totaled 32.9 billion euros, or about $45.1 billion, and Italian exports to China increased 8.3 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to the previous year. According to data provided by Italy’s newspaper Corriere Della Sera, the Chinese government, especially through its People’s Bank of China, counts a series of investments in a range of key Italian organizations, including the country’s largest power company, Enel; Italy’s biggest information and communications technology group, Telecom, and insurance and finance giant Generali Group.
While Chinese players are still far from playing a strategic role in the European luxury industry — compared with Qatari funds, for example — some have nonetheless been investing in Italian fashion companies. Among others, Fosun International Ltd. acquired a 35 percent stake in high-end men’s wear label Caruso in 2013, while fashion retailer Shenzhen Marisfrolg Fashion Co. Ltd. bought Milanese fashion firm Krizia last February.
China is not the only Asian country to be attracted by the “Made in Italy” label. South Korea is one of the most receptive markets when it comes to high-fashion products. According to data provided by the Italian Fashion Chamber, Italian exports of shoes and leather goods to South Korea increased 16 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to the same period last year. To facilitate the cooperation between the two countries and promote strategic investments, Italy’s fashion association on Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korea Fashion Association and the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.