“Italy and Japan are two protagonists of world culture”

Broker of peace, champion of prosperity

Italian Ambassador to Japan Giorgio Starace

Text by Andrew Howitt  /  Photos by Kageaki Smith

Throughout his 32-year career in the foreign service, Ambassador Giorgio Starace has had postings on almost every continent. In addition to working at embassies in Guatemala and Beijing, he has served as diplomatic advisor to the minister of agriculture in Rome, head of press at the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations in New York, deputy ambassador to India in New Dehli, ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Abu Dhabi, and most recently as special envoy for the Italian minister of Foreign Affairs for Libya. At the end of March, he was appointed as the new Ambassador of Italy to Japan. Ambassador Starace spoke with Eurobiz Japan about his involvement in establishing a democratic government in Libya, how he plans to strengthen trade relations between Italy and Japan, and his thoughts on why Italians are so healthy.


Could you tell me about your time as ambassador to the UAE?

I can give you a personal experience that was very touching. I had many opportunities to participate in the Majlis, the traditional assembly, of his Royal Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. It’s the time, every Monday, when the Sheikh consults with society. You have all these groups that come to this gigantic hall and he takes the whole afternoon shaking hands and talking with everyone. There are 300 to 400 people each week. It’s how the Sheikh keeps in contact with his people, and also ambassadors. There was always a moment reserved where we would have the opportunity to give important messages to him directly. It was also very interesting meeting the big tribes of the UAE — they are always so warm and welcoming. And with them wearing their white kandura, it’s a beautiful scene.

What did you do as special envoy to Libya?

I was involved in the negotiations that were going on in several capitals, but especially in the coastal city of Skhirat in Morocco. That is where we arrived at the conclusion of the political agreement that is now the basis for the provisional government ruling part of Libya. It is supported by the international community and by the United Nations through a number of resolutions of the Security Council. The Fayez al-Sarraj government is in charge now in Tripoli. And this was very much my task — helping the al-Sarraj government begin its work. I can tell you it was not very easy. But so far, we’ve succeeded. Together with our partners, we have managed — up until this point — to avoid civil war in Libya, which is a very important result. And now Italy is actively engaged in shaping a large consensus for the al-Sarraj government, but also for a transition that should bring the country to general elections that could be held in 2018.

Libya is very complicated. But, in my opinion, it is a country that is going in the right direction.

How would you describe the relationship between Italy and Japan?

It’s a very intimate relationship. The two countries are very, very close. And they have so much to share. Italy and Japan are two protagonists of world culture, and are both very proud of their cultures. They have very strong soft power.

The Japan Pavilion at the Milan Expo — a large international exhibition that lasted for one year in Milan — was the most visited pavilion by the Italians.

In what ways is the embassy working to strengthen trade relations between Italy and Japan?

First of all, we will hold meetings with Italian and Japanese companies almost every month — these will be divided into sectors. For example, maybe the first meeting will be on fashion. So, you’ll have Japanese and Italian companies operating in fashion. These meetings will be a way to do some networking, but also a way to imagine further strategies.

We are also very interested in helping the FTA between Japan and the EU reach a conclusion. Through that, we will see an increase in the trade between Italy and Japan, and of opportunities. The two economies are extremely mature and ready for another very big jump. If you see the latest data from the first four months of 2017, even with the current tariffs, Italian exports have grown overall by 7%, and continue to grow in several sectors in the Japanese market, including chemicals, tobacco, fashion, industrial machinery, agri-food and automotive. Out of all the markets in the far east, Italian exports to the Japanese market are by far the highest this year. Japanese exports are faring the same in Italy. Last year we did €10 billion in trade. With the FTA, we could really see this jump even more, making Japan one of the largest markets for Italy. After the FTA between the European Union and South Korea, Italian exports increased a lot. So, there are big opportunities.

In March, the Bloomberg Global Health Index was released, ranking Italy as having the healthiest people in the world. What would you attribute this high level of healthiness to?

Italy, together with Japan, has the highest life expectancy and the oldest population. There are scientists that say this is due to the so-called Mediterranean diet. It has a lot in common with the Japanese diet, because it’s very much focused on preserving authentic flavours, and the products have to be fresh. A lot of fish, a lot of vegetables and fruit. Not a lot of fat; olive oil, not butter.

We also have this idea that you have to live your life as best as you can. It helps a lot in having a healthy life and long life expectancy. Italians are hard working people, but they also often think about where they want to go for their holidays; it’s a part of our mindset. This helps remove the stress from our lives.

A third component is surely pleasure, to indulge as much as possible in the pleasures of food, fun, sports. Everything involving the health of the body is very much on the minds of Italians.

Italy is made up of a lot of these little towns where you have plazas that are made for people to meet and to talk. This helps enrich our lives, because healthy communities and relationships also help us stay healthy. 

“The two economies are extremely mature and ready for another very big jump”