How extensive is Ukrainian economic activity in Italy, and which areas is this economic activity currently focused on?
The statistics clearly show the intensity of economic relations between Ukraine and Italy. This year Italy became the leading partner for Ukrainian exporters to the EU, according to the State Statistics Service of Ukraine. In other words, 15% of Ukrainian exports to the EU go to Italy. To make it clear, I can say that the volume of exports to Italy in financial terms is greater than the total exports to Austria, Great Britain, Portugal, Slovakia and France. Italy is also one of Ukraine’s top ten largest investors.
How do you expect full implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement to impact on Ukrainian-Italian economic ties?
Today we already feel the impact of unilateral application of the Association Agreement. First of all, it has affected agricultural supplies. Ukrainian grain, oil, and vegetables are very much in demand on the Italian market. However, certain agricultural products are unable to enter the Italian market due to EU quotas. I hope the EU will consider increasing quotas, at least for products with the highest demand such as honey, cereals, flour, and tomatoes. The full application of the agreement will affect the import of Italian products to Ukraine, but a transition period for ‘sensitive’ groups of products will allow Ukrainian enterprises to adapt to increased imports. In addition, the current average duty on imports into Ukraine within the WTO is 5.8% - in other words, tariff protection levels are already quite low. The growth of imports will also be affected by other factors, primarily the state Ukraine’s economy, which has suffered as a result of Russian aggression.
What role does the Ukrainian Embassy currently play in the promotion of Ukrainian business in Italy?
Among other trade-promoting agencies, the Embassy plays a specifically institutional role. We actively promote business between Ukraine and Italy, as well as facilitating the start-up and development of joint business projects. While we do not do such things as market research or building distribution chains for individual Ukrainian enterprises interested in the Italian market, we seek to create bridges for Ukrainian companies to reach Italian business partners.
This includes the organization of business forums, seminars, field visits, B2B and B2G round tables, search for and primary negotiations with potential Italian partners, and initial consultations for Ukrainian businesses looking to start activities in Italy. This institutional work creates many opportunities for cooperation. For instance, this year’s business forum in Rome, which was dedicated to energy efficiency issues, resulted in at least 5 Ukrainian-Italian business projects in the energy sector. We now plan to apply this experience to the agriculture and food processing industries, where Ukrainian producers are particularly strong.
The Embassy also provides information on Ukrainian products. We are currently setting up a new online platform (www.opengateitaly.com) which will allow Ukrainian and Italian businesses to connect.
Italy is seen as one of the most pro-Russian countries within the EU. Do you encounter sympathy for Russia within Italian politics and the Italian media, and how do attitudes towards Russia impact on your work representing Ukraine and Ukrainian perspectives?
The Italian government and parliamentary coalition fully support Ukraine, its territorial integrity and the course of reforms in the country. We are grateful to our Italian partners for this support, despite some calls for enhanced dialogue with the aggressor country. Nevertheless, business is business everywhere, and there is neither sympathy nor antipathy where we offer beneficial cooperation.
Which areas of the Ukrainian economy generate the most interest among representatives of the Italian business community?
Traditionally, the most attractive areas of the Ukrainian economy for Italian businesses are agriculture, energy and finance. While cooperation in the agricultural sector is largely a question of export and import operations, finance and energy generally attract investors and are a key area of institutional cooperation. A number of additional sectors are on the radar of Italian businesses, including machinery, production of ceramic tiles, shoes, textiles, household chemicals and so on. The Ukrainian market is attractive for investment, given the low labour costs and excellent human resources. Addressing security issues will be the starting point for the recovery of investment flows into Ukraine.
How has awareness of contemporary Ukraine among Italians evolved over the past two years of revolution and conflict?
Since the very beginning, Italy had supported the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, transmitting signals for the necessity of dialogue between ex-president Yanukovych and protesters. Then-Foreign Minister of Italy Federica Mogherini as well as others Italian delegations paid visits to Ukraine calling for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Ukraine. The Italian government condemned the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and supports full implementation of the Minsk agreements. Of course, we cannot say the same for the whole political spectrum in Italy, as, for instance, the 5 Stars movement, Forza Italia and Lega Nord strongly insist on the unconditional resumption of normal relations with Russia, the lifting of EU sanctions against the aggressor, and recognition of Crimea’s annexation. Nevertheless, we note with satisfaction that the current parliamentary coalition is able to move forward in line with Italy’s international commitments. The latest evidence of this is the successful ratification of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine.