Italy’s true image

Italy is a serious and competitive manufacturing country. Its exports are soaring. In Europe it is second only to Germany, which it is fast catching up

It really does seem that Italy’s worst enemies are the Italians themselves. Marco Fortis, vice president of the Edison Foundation and Economic Observatory advisor to the Italian Ministry of International Trade, certainly thinks is the case. Indeed, it is a message he has reiterated a number of times before audiences of entrepreneurs, among whom it inevitably has the effect of raising spirits generally. You have to be there to see what I mean. This is the way things unfolded at recent meetings of industry associations belonging to Confindustria, too, where Fortis’s analyses, full of data and economic indices, were tantamount to a real injection of confidence. All he had to do was to list the various facts about Italy that they don’t seem to know in Brussels. And it is a long list. To cite a few examples, one thing they don’t know in the European Parliament is that, during the recent years of crisis, Italy’s public debt, in monetary terms, is the one that has shown the lowest percentage growth after that of Sweden. Furthermore, if we exclude the states that have received aid from the EU, Italy is the country with the highest primary surplus. What is more, if we take last 24 years, Italy holds the record for positive primary surpluses.

And who deserves the credit for all this? First of all, the citizens who, despite the climate of austerity imposed by Brussels, have shown (unlike those of the UK) that they believe in Europe and the Euro. Credit should also go to the companies that have generated income by working to develop highly innovative niche sectors.

We therefore have to ask ourselves why it is that, at European level, Italy does not get the recognition it deserves. This is despite the fact that Italian industry, often accused of showing a low capacity to innovate, actually boasts a manufacturing industry that continues to gather extraordinary results and to attract, as customers, international brands that produce goods we seem to appreciate more than Italian made ones. After all, let’s not forget that we are the second largest exporter among the 28 EU member countries, and occupy fourth place in the world ranking of manufacturers of machines and equipment for plastics processing, behind (in ascending order) Japan, China and Germany. What is more, Germany, despite holding first place, is the main destination market for our exports.

And there is yet more. Italy is one of only five countries in the world to record a manufacturing surplus in excess of 100 billion dollars. And the other four in this group are all major powers: China, Germany, Japan and South Korea. According to WTO data, the manufacturing trade balances of France (-34 billion), the UK (-99) and the USA (-610), all lean in the other direction. «In many technology-intensive environments like the mechanical and pharmaceutical industries, there is the perception that Italy has overtaken Germany in terms of quality and capacity to support the customer throughout the post-sales phases», explains Marco Fortis.

So what does Italy need? First of all, it needs a different narrative. «There are now important signs that we have reached a turning point, therefore, if we want to see consumption and investment picking up then we have to give citizens, consumers and businesses confidence in the future once again», believes Marco Fortis. «If we want rating agencies to assess us more positively and international investors to purchase our national debt bonds, buy shares in Italian banks and companies, and open new factories in Italy, then we need to rebuild our country’s image».