Pak Italy cooperation can be improved: Italian Ambassador

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Mar 15, 2014.

Islamabad –  Italy is keen on helping Pakistani businesses take advantage of improved access to the European market as the two countries also continue to increase scientific and cultural bilateral cooperation, according to the Italian envoy to Pakistan.

Adriano Chiodi Cianfarani, the Ambassador of Italy to Pakistan, discussed the future of Pak-Italy relations and the bilateral initiatives to strengthen cultural and trade ties between the two countries during a conversation with The Express Tribune.

“We should increase the level of our trade and bring in more trade volume and more investment,” the ambassador said. “There is a lot of room for that.”

The Pak-Italy trade volume is currently around $1.5 billion on average, Cianfarani said.

He said the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Plus status, awarded to Pakistan by the European Union in December 2013, applies to 72 lines of products and it can be a tremendous boost for the Pakistani economy.

But where the mechanism offers opportunities, Cianfarani said it also poses challenges in terms of how prepared Pakistani companies are to avail the duty-free market access to EU countries. “The challenges have to be addressed correctly,” he said.

One action to counter the challenges the embassy is currently pursuing is to establish an Italian Chamber of Commerce in Pakistan.

It will be a focal point of assistance for Pakistani companies that want to do business with Italian firms, Cianfarani said. At the moment, the embassy is waiting to get approval for the chamber from Italian authorities.

“It will be the sign to help bring the two economies together and create further opportunities for trade and investment,” the ambassador said. “We hope it will happen sometime in 2014.”

Meanwhile, the Italian Development Committee (IDC), a private effort that is being helped by the embassy to set up its offices in major Pakistani cities, is also working to bring Italian and Pakistani companies and entrepreneurs closer.

Around 90 per cent of Pakistan’s exports to Italy are textile- and leather-related products and over half of Italy’s exports to Pakistan fall in the category of metal, machinery and equipment, according to the Italian embassy.

Bilateral trade can naturally be improved with Pakistan exporting more textiles and importing textile machinery from Italy under the GSP Plus. But trade can also be made to pick up in other areas such as agriculture and food, Cianfarani said.

Beyond business links, Italy and Pakistan are collaborating in scientific and cultural domains.

“Culture is in Italy’s DNA,” Cianfarani said, and for the European nation that prides in its historical heritage, it is no surprise that archaeology is the first entry point for Pak-Italy cultural exchange.

An Italian archeological mission was first established in Swat valley in 1956 and it helped build the first Swat archeological museum, the ambassador said.

After the museum was damaged by the 2005 earthquake and later by a bomb blast in 2008, the Italian government funded the reconstruction of the museum under a Pak-Italy debt-for-development swap agreement.

With the work of Italian architects, community’s involvement and support of Pakistani authorities, the museum was reopened for public in November 2013.

The archaeological work in Swat also had a tourism component that aimed at developing sustainable livelihood options for communities living near historic sites.

An Italian team of archeologists, together with French and Pakistani colleagues, is also working in Sindh, on a trilateral project in the site of the ancient city of Bhanbhore, believed to be the port from which general Bin Qasim accessed the Sub-continent.

Finally, a third mission composed of Italian paleontologist and researchers have been working also near Lasbela on a very interesting site.

Italy has a long standing tradition also in the Northern Area, with the Duke of the Abruzzis, the son of our then King, that lead an expedition to the Karakoram in year 1909.

In 1954, a team of Italian mountaineers was the first to claim the summit of the K2. Building on that legacy, the Italian mountaineering research organisation, EvK2-CNR, is similarly working with Gilgit-Baltistan authorities in the Central Karakoram National Park on socioeconomic and environmental uplift, again as part of the Italian debt swap.

Research has also led to restoration assistance, the ambassador said.

“The preparatory study for the restoration of the walled city of Multan has been completed,” Cianfarani said. “Upon consideration of the Pakistani authorities, Italian experts could help with other restoration projects in Punjab as well.”

“Culture is in general a very important bridge between countries and people,” he said. Such a cultural bridge was built in Lahore and Karachi in February when Italy co-sponsored the two literary festivals.

“The literature festivals are very important opportunities to showcase what Pakistan is offering and the cultural face projects a more complete image of Pakistan actually is,” Cianfarani said.

Literary events also provide a platform for discourse that has resonance for Pakistan and also beyond its borders, he said.

Pakistan might be cozying up to political stability with its democratic transfer of power in 2013. But Italy has gone through a change of prime ministers a year after its general elections.

Matteo Renzi, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, assumed charged as the Italian premier on February 22. A fresh face in national Italian politics, the 39-year-old Renzi has announced ambitious plans to bring about constitutional and electoral reforms and inject life in to Italy’s economy and jobs market.

With the new premier’s agenda focused on domestic affairs, the international community has wondered about his foreign policy.

“As for Pakistan, I think there will be continuity in the case of Italian foreign policy and I am sure that nothing is going to change in the importance given to bilateral relations with Islamabad, which remains a priority for Italy” Cianfarani said.

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