WASHINGTON — President Obama touted strong economic ties with Italy and support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade deal with the European Union at a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who was in town to attend a state dinner at the White House Tuesday night.
Obama said the two leaders agreed to focus on economic growth and creating more jobs, and also backed Renzi’s “bold economic reforms.”
“The Italian economy has shown signs of growth,” Obama said. “It still has a long way to go to put Italy on a path to long-term and sustainable growth and the upcoming referendum to modernize Italy’s political institutions are something the United States strongly supports because we believe that it will help accelerate Italy’s path toward a more vibrant, dynamic economy, as well as a more responsive political system.”
Obama’s support of the effort by Renzi comes at a critical time for his country, which faces a referendum on Dec. 4 on the government’s proposal to overhaul its constitution.
“Matteo shared his thoughts on how, in the wake of Brexit, the European Union can move forward and focus on delivering security and prosperity that Europeans deserve,” Obama said. “And we both agreed that without an emphasis on demand and growth, and investment in infrastructure and projects that can put people back to work, particularly young people, that much of the economic fragility in Europe will continue.”
Two-way trade between the U.S. and Italy totaled more than $80 billion last year, according to a White House fact sheet. The U.S. is Italy’s largest non-European export market and Italy is the 12th largest trading partner of the U.S.
In addition, between five million and six million American tourists visit Italy every year. Italian direct investment in the U.S. is estimated to support 127,000 U.S. jobs, while U.S. investment in Italy supports about 200,000 Italian jobs.
Obama said the two “both reaffirmed our strong support for negotiations around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which can support jobs and exports and innovation and growth on both sides of the Atlantic.”
T-TIP holds potential for brands and retailers in many areas, including tariff elimination, regulatory streamlining and the removal of trade barriers. Negotiators agreed in earlier rounds to immediately eliminate duties on 97 percent of trade in goods across the Atlantic. The other 3 percent of trade will be subject to longer tariff phaseouts on sensitive products that are currently under negotiation.
Renzi said the U.S. has been a model for Italy’s economic recovery.
“I had to ask for his [Obama’s] forgiveness because I used the expression, ‘Jobs Act,’ which is obviously something that I copied,” Renzi said through an interpreter. “This has created 588,000 new jobs in Italy, which for Italy are still insufficient but at least they are a first step to leave our difficult situation.”
Renzi was asked whether a failure on the referendum would hurt his political future.
“I think the Italian referendum is very simply a message because it’s about the fight against bureaucracy,” he said. “And we need a great investment against bureaucracy in Italy for a lot of reasons. If in December we win this referendum for Italy, it will be easy — more easy to continue the battle to change Europe because structural reforms are important for Italy, but important also for institutions in Brussels, and Europe.
“So the only consequence, constitutional reform apart, in the political debate in my view is, if we win, Italy will be stronger in the debate in [the] EU,” Renzi added.