Italian firms keen on Vietnam

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A worker assembles a new Piaggio at a factory inside the Binh Xuyen Industrial Park in Vinh Phuc Province. Italian group Piaggio inaugurated the vespa factory in 2009.

Italy, besides improving cultural cooperation with Vietnam, is seeking ways to boost economic ties with the country. Italian companies are interested in sectors like leather, footwear, textile, machinery, motorbikes, and infrastructure, the country's ambassador to Vietnam, Lorenzo Angeloni, tells Thanh Nien Weekly.

Thanh Nien Weekly: The 2011 Italy-Vietnam project is coming to an end. Could you tell us about its results?

Lorenzo Angeloni: I am very happy since the "Y-Viet 2011 - Connecting Countries" project has been a great success. For this reason, we have decided to schedule a second edition, the "Y-Viet 2012." "Y-Viet" is an organic program that includes two different aspects, culture and economy, with the aim of fostering closer connections between Italy and Vietnam. In showing off the Italian way of life at different times this year, our vision was to enhance the perception of our country in Vietnam, trying to meet the demand for "Italy," which is becoming stronger and stronger in Vietnam.

The Y-Viet 2011 program included 22 events conceived and designed for our Vietnamese friends: concerts, exhibitions, film shows, conferences, fashion shows. All these events have a great appeal for the insiders and authorities involved with them, and a wider audience and young people as well.

The project was meant to promote Italian culture in Vietnam. What would Italy do to help Vietnam promote its culture in Italy?

Yes, our target is to attract Vietnamese people to Italian culture. But I would like to stress that through some activities we have organized in the past, we have also tried to get the Italian community closer to Vietnam. We did with the launch of the "Week of Vietnam-Italy Culture" last October. It was a fashion show and food and wine tasting. We combined the two cultures, trying to emphasize the similarities between Italy and Vietnam: love for fashion, food, music, and football.

The audiences at the different events were introduced to eastern and western styles, expressed through the creativity of Vietnamese and Italians.

Like cultural cooperation, investment and trade ties between the two countries have seen progress in recent years. However, bilateral trade and Italian investment in Vietnam remain modest. What are the reasons?

The Italian ambassador to Vietnam, Lorenzo Angeloni

Despite the global financial crisis which started in 2008 and is now hitting the entire euro zone including my country, we have witnessed in the last few years an increase in economic cooperation between private companies. A higher number of Italian enterprises have come to Vietnam.

If our investment remains modest, this is, in my opinion, not due to a lack of interest from the Italian side but rather due to the size of our companies which are, on average, smaller than those of other countries. [However,] this makes them more flexible, ready to react to the challenges of the market, less structured, and ready to invest in faraway countries.

What are the sectors in Vietnam that Italian firms are interested in?

There is no a specific field of specialization for Italian investors. For example, we have the well-known Piaggio Company producing motorbikes, Carvico in the textile industry, Medlac in pharmaceuticals, Bonfiglioli making electrical engines, and even candies with Perfetti Van Melle.

We feel there is a particular interest in some sectors like leather and footwear, textile, machinery, motorbikes, which could benefit both sides.

In the last few years the Italian side has been more interested in the infrastructure sector. We are now following very closely and interested in the new PPP (public-private partnership) model which should be implemented in Vietnam in the next few years.

The government of Vietnam expects to implement the PPP investment policy to attract not only financial investment, but also advanced technology and management skills from the private sector and foreign companies, including Italian ones. We believe that there will be active Italian engagement in this field.

Italy is one of the world leaders in cosmetics, food processing technology, and hotel services. However, the products are not very popular in Vietnam. Why?

It is not very easy to answer this question. This depends on the average size of our companies as I mentioned above, and some other factors. Our companies' traditional markets are Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America.

As for cosmetics, for example, Italian products are usually positioned in high-end markets since they are not cheap and not affordable to all consumers.

As for food processing technology, an Italian company, Vita Food, has already made direct investment in the catering sector in Ho Chi Minh City, while another company, Viet Y Trading, is actively engaged in presenting new Italian technology in food processing machinery.

As for Vietnamese firms, which sectors in Italy can they invest in?

Our SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) are very flexible and produce high-quality products. (Italy is the second largest manufacturing economy in Europe.) They, with their strong brands, are strongly rooted in the European and other developed markets.

Vietnam is in the middle of the Asian continent which will be the engine of economic growth in the future. Vietnamese SMEs have strong demand for modern technologies to consolidate their brands and add value to their products.

[This is] a perfect mix which could bring benefits to companies in both countries, allowing the companies willing to join this vision access to a huge potential market which would otherwise be out of reach.

What do you think about the potential for cooperation between the two countries in future? As an ambassador, which field of bilateral cooperation do you want to strengthen most?

I think the role of the Italian embassy should be to strengthen bilateral cooperation at all levels but particularly in the economic field. It is a difficult time now for the European economy and we should work harder to make possible interaction between companies from the two countries.

Together with UNIDO, which is implementing an SME cluster development project entirely financed by Italy, we will organize, in four different locations in Italy in February 2012 "Roadshow Vietnam," a program aimed at presenting to Italian business community the potential for bilateral cooperation and the possibilities that Italian SMEs could find here.

We believe this event will raise awareness among our entrepreneurs about this country and help increase Italian investment in Vietnam and strengthen our trade relationship.

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