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The economic future of Europe and the US, the TTIP implications and investment opportunities in Italy

    • New York
    • 28 February 2014

          Organized in collaboration with the Italian Business & Investment Initiative, this international workshop highlighted a renewed openness towards investing in Italy precisely because it possesses – albeit frequently not well-known – assets of interest to investors. It was stressed, however, that implementing (not merely announcing or adopting) reforms, and providing certainty, consistency and a business-friendly environment, remain the real challenges to overcome, as there is fierce competition between nations to attract foreign investment.

          The participants observed that there is a sense among the citizens of democratic regimes that they are losing control of the processes governing them due to globalization and the speed with which these processes are changing their lives. National sovereignties are being eroded, which some felt will lead all countries to search for their identity and security in the past, regardless of whether those roots lie in nationalism or tribalism. In this regard, many of those in attendance underlined that the new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will provide a great stimulus for the economy, even if it is premature to speculate on when it might come into operation.

          Emphasis was laid on the need for Italy to work on improving its global image and to make comprehensive and coordinated efforts at turning the strength and appeal of its “made, designed, and crafted in Italy” industries to advantage. Without clear English-language messaging from Italy, the perception of the country will continue to be shaped by secondhand sources based on stereotypes, thus projecting an image worse than the reality and providing a further disincentive to investment. The considered view was that Italy must instead become an active player in promoting and positioning itself internationally.

          Precisely because of the state of crisis it finds itself in, Italy was seen as representing an opportunity for investment in assets whose value will increase once reforms have been implemented. It was acknowledged that the country is engaged in a process of structural and institutional reform, having already taken several important steps over the past twelve months towards making the country more attractive to investors. Quite a number of acquisitions and mergers have also taken place in recent years between small and medium-sized enterprises, which form the very backbone of Italian exports.

          It was suggested that observers and potential investors are more interested in plans for the future and for growth than in analyzing the whys and wherefores of the past. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly common practice to project a future scenario, and to then, by a process of reverse engineering, work to put in place the requisite skills and procedures to realize it, rather than looking to the past to inspire future goals. New methodologies like these which challenge conventional approaches were seen as providing a great opportunity for dialogue with investors.

          The participants submitted that Italy should primarily seek to reinvigorate domestic demand and resume its single-minded pursuit of growth, identifying sectors within the country undergoing development and expansion or exhibiting like potential – exports being one such. There were also calls for the country to play its strong suit of “authenticity“, with manufacturing – especially of high quality – increasingly becoming a commodity. Innovation must be conceived with a view to products “travelling the world“ in conquest of markets, focusing on quality craftsmanship and high-end skills sought-after by business. Opportunities for development and growth were also discerned in the cultural sector, including tapping into the value of intangible cultural assets (such as natural landscapes), the licensing of major museum brands, exploring the online cultural market, and exporting creativity.

          In conclusion, it was stressed that it is speed of execution that generates certainty and the perception of focus and commitment towards resolving problems. As time marches on amid a constant stream of innovation, Italy must quickly extricate itself from the past. Particularly at this crucial juncture, it is imperative to maintain a sense of urgency and an awareness of the need for change.